In the Middle East, sports have, for decades, been of pivotal importance to players (both professional and amateur), to impassioned fans and supporters, to industry and business stakeholders, to journalists and the media, to physicians and health professionals, to educators and policymakers, and to societies at large. In various shapes and forms, sports have served as vehicles and venues for political expression and engagement, economic development, national identity creation and assertion, as well as regional and international relations. And yet despite this flowing field of potential sites of research inquiry, there has been a limited amount of scholarly interest in the role that sports have played in the contemporary socio-economic, cultural, and political milieus of the region.
Despite the significant evolution of the sports as a critical component of Middle Eastern society, and despite the increasing sociological study of sports in other parts of the world, we have a limited literature investigating sports within the region. The existing theoretical literature suggests that sports can serve as a site of social reflection, reproduction, and resistance. Using the lens of sports provides us with a new field from which to examine power, social inequality, governance and regulation, gender relations, and various other contours of how societies are shaped. The political economy of sports is another lens worth including. Sports exists not only in the daily practice form of casual games that people play for social and fitness reasons, and also within the more competitive domain of organized and professional sports. Sports competitions and organizations have transcended beyond the boundaries of states to become part of a regulated global system to which states concede sovereignty. The globalization of sports exists as a multifaceted transnational business involving huge financial investments and profits, comprising of multiple actors from a variety of industries.
Examining sports within the context of the contemporary Middle East provide for an alternate field for deepening our understanding of in state-society relations, political economy, and international relations. In line with this, CIRS launched a new research project which among other things hopes to explore some of the following areas of inquiry:
- The Historical Evolution of Sports in the Middle East
- Sports and the International Relations of the Middle East
- Mega events, Reputational Risk and Branding
- Political Economy of Sports in the Middle East
- Nationalism, Identity, and Sports in the Middle East
- Social Inclusion and Gender in Middle Eastern Sports
- Ethnonational Conflict and Sports in the Middle East
- Sports and Media in the Middle East
- Sports and Health
Addressing these and other similar questions will contribute toward filling gaps in the burgeoning literature on sports in the Middle East, and particularly in relation to the aforementioned areas of inquiry. This research initiative addresses an increasingly important but largely understudied topic in Middle Eastern studies. Utilizing an interdisciplinary range of social science approaches, this project deepens our theoretical as well as empirical and analytical knowledge of the role of sports in the Middle East.
Article by Islam Hassan, Research Analyst at CIRS