Bring on the Brand New Renaissance

November 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

For Canadian males of a certain vintage, being a fan of the Tragically Hip is compulsory for maintaining citizenship.  It’s true, we can get deported for denouncing the Hip.  At the very least, you can get mocked, made fun of, and ostracised for suggesting they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.  Even a relatively innocuous statement like noting they’ve kinda fallen off in recent years can get you in trouble, as I learned a decade ago in Ottawa.  But once, back in the 1990s, the Hip were it.  They defined Canada, beyond hockey, beer, and healthcare.  And they had a song called “Three Pistols,” ostensibly about the disappearance of iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park in Ontario in 1917.

There is a line in that song about bringing on the brand new Renaissance, and this is what I thought about when I read an article in the The Times yesterday about all the money flowing out of Middle Eastern nations into sport, in particular, European sport.  Brazil and England played a football friendly in Qatar this week (won, not surprisingly, by Brazil, 1-0).  Manchester City FC is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.  A Middle Eastern consortium is also sniffing around Liverpool FC, which is buried under massive debt brought on by the club’s current American owners.  And, as The Times points out, the Middle East is host to not one, but two Grand Prix races.  Britain is in danger of losing its F1 race, and Canada actually did lose its last year, though it’s apparently returning to Montréal this coming year.

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and other small, wealthy Middle Eastern nations, no larger than an Italian city-state during the Renaissance, really, have sought to diversify their economies away from an over-reliance on oil money, and sport has become their ticket to diversification.  All fine and good, no doubt (though there are all kinds of environmental issues involved in the over-development of these city-nations).

But what I find interesting about these Middle Eastern cities appealing to the Wayne Rooneys, Kakas, Tiger Woods, Robinhos, Lewis Hamiltons of the world is that it is entirely reminiscent, culturally-speaking, to the Italian Renaissance.  In 15th and 16th century, cities like Florence (under the rule of the Medici), Genoa, Venice, and Milano, competed with each other, inviting famous artists and writers to take up residence.  The artists would then be subsidised by the rulers, and charged with producing great art, including and especially public art, to be displayed on the public square, or in the church.  Other installations and works of art were for the private collections of the likes of the Medici.  But then these cities could use their great art, and the reputations of their artists-in-residence as a means of claiming greater prestige than their neighbours and rivals.  This competition between Italian city-states drove the Italian Renaissance, which itself drove the Renaissance northwards and across Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the Middle East, rather than Leonardo, it’s Robinho called in.  Sporting evens in the Middle East not only bring in scads of cash for the local economy, they bring in prestige.  The F1 series is the most prestigious racing circuit in the world.  And it stops in the Middle East twice, in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.  Drawing the greatest football team in the world (Brazil) to play a friendly against the resurgent English side also brings prestige, as does having Tiger Woods design a golf course, as he has done in Dubai.

Qatar is pondering a run at hosting the World Cup in 2022, whilst Dubai is measuring a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.  Not surprisingly, these are the world’s two largest sporting events, and come not only with economic stimulus for the local economy, but prestige and honour as well.

The Times article rather overlooks the prestige factor here, focussed as it is only on the financial aspects of these sporting events.  That is only part of it.  The buying power of these Middle Eastern city/nations is only worth so much, the prestige and honour of hosting F1 races, international football friendlies, the World Cup, the Olympics is not to be overlooked, nor is the tourism money.  People want to go to Dubai to play on Tiger Woods’ golf course.

[Cross-posted, in slightly different format, at Current Intelligence].

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