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The 2022 World Cup will be the first one played on Arab soil. It will also break with tradition and be held in the winter, as opposed to the summer, given the searing temperatures in host nation Qatar. This has made the tournament a hot-button topic in the soccer world for years.

Why it matters: But in the 19 months since Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. led a blockade of Qatar as a result of a long-running political dispute, the World Cup has become something else entirely: "a proxy in the broader geopolitical dispute transfixing the Gulf," the NYT's James Montague and Tariq Panja write.

What's happening: The goal of Qatar's political enemies is to sabotage the tournament or, at the very least, to humble Qatar by forcing it to share the event with them.

Details: When leaked emails belonging to U.A.E. Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba became public in 2017, they revealed a wide-ranging plan financed by the U.A.E. to use "American journalists and think tanks to reposition Qatar and its World Cup in a negative light."

  • One of the main orchestrators of this ongoing information war is Cornerstone Global Associates, a little-known consulting firm based in London.

The big picture: "The dispute has added a new dimension to a specialized industry in which consultants and other insiders can earn millions of dollars for their efforts to shift public opinion in favor of the nations that finance them, or against those countries' rivals," write Montague and Panja.

  • In other words, this is a story of media manipulation, leaked documents, propaganda, shifting allegiances, bribe money and whispered secrets — and the 2022 World Cup is at the very center of it.

Go deeper: A series of leaks revealed professional soccer's darkest secrets

Go deeper

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.