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Sports and Politics

Sports- Yemeni sport
A Yemeni boy kicks the ball in the air during a football match among friends and neighbours in the capital Sanaa on April 11, 2018. Photo AFP

Sport is an important part of life in the MENA region. Football is by far the most popular sport. However, other sports thrive, such as wrestling in Iran and squash in Egypt.

The 2022 FIFA World Cupis scheduled to take place in Qatar. If it goes ahead, this will be the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world. However, on 7 June 2015, FIFA announced that Qatar may no longer be eligible to host the event, if accusations of bribery are proven. In addition, Qatar has faced strong criticism for the treatment of migrant labourers working on World Cup infrastructure projects. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are using this and other criticisms to put political and economic pressure on Qatar, imposing an embargo on the tiny Gulf state that has been in place since June 2017.

Yet while the World Cup is being leveraged to divide countries, sports diplomacy can also bring countries together, as it has Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Fanack created this Sport and Politics Special to highlight both the love of sport in the MENA region and sport as a vehicle for power and corruption.

Further Reading

Balsam spent five years participating in an average of ten to twelve fencing competitions annually across Europe, Asia, and the MENA region. In 2015, twenty years after her introduction to fencing, Balsam established the Sports an...
In 2000, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Missnad established Qatar Women’s Sport Committee (QWSC). The QWSC’s objective is to improve women’s performance in sports, enhance their participation in various sporting events, session...
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE are committed to isolating the tiny emirate in every way imaginable. But Dorsey believes that efforts to undermine Qatar’s sports industry could backfire. Assuming the World Cup does go ahead in...
A few months after the Zamalek tragedy in 2015, the Ultras’ groups were banned by law by an Egyptian court. There was even a court case to brand them a ‘terrorist organisation’, but that was overturned. Nevertheless Ultras b...
After the 1979 revolution, Iranian wrestling was infused with the Islamic Republic’s ideological zeal. No wrestler was allowed to wrestle with an Israeli. In fact, wrestling in Iran remained a symbol of standing up to evil, be i...
Qatar has been investing heavily in the field of sports for more than ten years now because it is a way to raise its profile and global visibility, build a sustainable market, exercise soft power, create a national social cohesion...
Whether or not al-Sheikh continues to meddle in Egyptian football, his involvement to date has certainly not gone as smoothly as he no doubt hoped.
Qatar has hosted sporting events as a form of soft power, helping it break its isolation and build relationships with the international community, including Israel. However, The UAE has different motives, warming up to Israel in a...
Squash can also be a means to pursue other ambitions. For instance, his squash achievements helped Ali Farag to study at Harvard University, and other players have received scholarships to study abroad. Faced with tough economic c...
Beyond the social role the ultras now play, their pull has another dimension: “In the space of 90 minutes, they express the whole range of emotions that one can feel in a lifetime: joy, suffering, hatred, anguish, admiration, in...

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