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

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