What does Sportswashing mean?

Making a bad reputation better by playing sports

Sportswashing is a common practice where a person, group or a country uses sports to shift attention away from their negative image or wrongdoings. The idea is to use the popularity and admiration of sports to paint a more positive image of themselves.

Take Qatar for example. Despite its questionable track record on workers’ rights, it frequently uses sportswashing by hosting and funding football events. In fact, in 2020, Qatar launched its own football league, the Qatari Stars League, in a bid to compete with the likes of the English Premier League. By attracting big names like Xavi Hernandez and Samuel Eto’o to play in their league, they hope to improve their worldwide image.

Other instances of sportswashing can be seen in:

Example for using ‘Sportswashing’ in a conversation

Hey, did you hear about Saudi Arabia hosting the golf tournament?

Yeah, I did. It’s called LIV Golf, right?

Exactly! But you know what’s interesting? They’re doing it to improve their reputation.

Really? How does that work?

It’s called sportswashing. They’re using the golf tournament to distract people from their human rights issues.

Oh, I get it now. So they’re hoping that people will think they’re not so bad if they’re involved in sports.

Exactly! It’s a way for them to improve their image.