Video logs of various conversations on the hosting of FIBA 2027 in Qatar and the future of basketball in the Middle East

Vlog 1: Introduction to the Project – America’s Game in the Middle East

In this vlog Danyel Reiche and Suzi Mirgani discuss the research project and talk about a wide range of cultural, economic, political, and social issues, including the origins of the game in the Middle East and the role America played in this process.


Suzi Mirgani [00:00:00 – 00:00:45]

So today we’ll be talking about a new research initiative launched by the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar titled America’s Game in the Middle East: The 2027 Basketball World Cup in Qatar. The project actually builds on CIRS’s previous research initiatives in the realm of sports and society. We have multiple past research initiatives, including Sports, Politics and Society in the Middle East. Football in the Middle East. Building a legacy: Qatar FIFA World Cup 2022 and most recently Qatar’s World Cup Goals: Moving from the Periphery to the Center. Information about all of these projects can be found on the CIRS website at cirs.georgetown.edu.

Mirgani [00:00:46 – 00:01:00]

So today we’ll be talking to the project’s faculty lead, Danyel Reiche who is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for International and Regional Studies and Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar. So welcome, Daniel.

Danyel Reiche [00:02:00 – 00:03:00]

Hi, Suzi.

Mirgani [00:01:03 – 00:01:16]

Hi. So just to kick us off on what this project is about, can you let us know why the International Basketball Federation, otherwise known as FIBA, selected Qatar as the host?

Reiche [00:01:17 – 00:02:09]

Yeah, I think there is a push towards Asia and sports in general and basketball specifically. So this will be the third Men’s Basketball World Cup in a row in Asia. It was in 2019 in China, and in 2023 in Indonesia, Philippines, and Japan and in 2027 it will be in Qatar. And this is the largest growth market, not just for basketball, also in other sport. 60% of the global population lives in Asia and in the past as basketball, men’s basketball was dominated by the Americas and by Europe. And now Asia is catching up. So with the Basketball World Cup in Qatar there will have been, in the history of men’s basketball, twenty World Cups, ten of them in the Americas, five in Europe and five in Asia.

Mirgani [00:02:10 – 00:02:18]

That’s fantastic. And why would Qatar be interested in hosting the World Cup, the Basketball World Cup?

Reiche [00:02:19 – 00:04:02]

So there are political and sports specific reasons. Politically, Qatar is a small state that aims to overcome its invisibility, that it had. Not anymore. That it had as a small state. It wants to attract tourists, investors, and have influence in international affairs. And Qatar has developed sports as one of its key niche areas to achieve these objectives. Of course, main focus is on providing an increasing number of countries with its energy, with gas. Then it promotes a global media network, Al Jazeera and is very active in diplomacy, as we could just see in 2023 when it had (mediated) to (help) release Israeli hostages or get kidnapped Ukrainian children. So but sports is like one of four niche areas for Qatar. Other small states have niche areas. Dubai – tourism, Norway – humanitarian efforts and so on. So Qatar is just doing more of the same as they did in the past. I mean, they hosted many other sporting events in the past was the highlight of the FIFA Men’s Football World Cup in 2022. But this was not the end. So it’s, I would even argue it’s now more of the same. Formula 1 is in next ten years in Qatar and and now the Men’s Basketball World Cup in 2027. Then when we look at sport specific reasons, certainly basketball is after soccer/football is the second most globalized sport, and Qatar wants to build up a profile to host one day, the Summer Olympic Games.

Mirgani [00:04:3 – 00:04:20]

So we know about the history of football in Qatar. We’ve spoken about this quite a lot in our previous projects. But what’s the state of basketball in Qatar? What’s Qatar’s relationship to basketball? Is there basketball federations here?

Reiche [00:04:21 – 00:06:33]

Yeah, there is. And basketball has been very important in the process of Qatar becoming a Olympic nation. So Qatar is a young country that became independent in 1971. In 1979, it formed a National Olympic Committee. And in 1980s this was approved by the International Olympic Committee. In 1981, which was important, the IOC president Samaranch at that time, visited for the first time Qatar. So to become a member of the International Olympic Committee, a National Olympic Committee needs to have at least five members that have been recognized by international federations. And basketball was one of them. Football was another one, for example. So in the 1970s, in total 6 national federations were established, basketball, football, handball and volleyball, and athletics and table tennis. And so basketball was one of the reasons why Qatar could become a member of the Olympic family in 1980. Then Qatar did not make much headlines because of remarkable achievements. 2006 qualified for the only time for the Men’s World Cup but never qualified for the Women’s World Cup. The women made global headlines in 2014 when they forfeit the game at the Asian Games because they were not allowed to play with hijab. But since then, the FIBA has fortunately lifted the discriminatory ban of the hijab in 2017, which is now also, I believe, a very important step to make basketball in Qatar, in the Gulf, in the Middle East more popular amongst women. Of course, basketball is also very important in some migrant communities. For example, we have lots of people from the Philippines in Qatar. In the Philippines it’s the number one sport, basketball. And there’s also a Philippine Basketball League, for example, in the country.

Mirgani [00:06:35,570 – 00:06:58]

So even though basketball is played all around the world, as you’ve just mentioned, in the Philippines, also, it’s really largely an American game. And it even features in the title of this project, right. It’s the American game in the Middle East. So what kind of opportunities does this allow for the connections, engagements between the U.S. and the Middle East?

Reiche [00:06:59 – 00:09:30]

Yeah, it’s as American as soccer, football, for example, British. It was invented in Springfield, Massachusetts, and it became known and popular in the Middle East through missionaries. And one example of that is that I worked before in Lebanon for 12 years at the American University of Beirut. And there is evidence that Lebanon, as that basketball came to Lebanon through American missionaries who brought the game to the Syrian Protestant college as AUB was named at the beginning of the 20th century. And from AUB, Syrian Protestant college at that time. It spread then throughout the country. And we have similar stories in other countries in the region. And but there are always the three ‘M’ so there are missionaries, and there’s military and merchants who also brought like sports to the region. And then if we look recently, there is big interest in the NBA in the Middle East. There was recently in Abu Dhabi in 2023, a pre-season game of two NBA teams. And Harlem Globetrotters, it’s like a show team in basketball. They have been performing in the region. And interestingly, in 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, right at the time when Saudi started to open up. So there’s a lot of evidence how the game came from America to the region. But I think it’s also for the region an opportunity to engage with the U.S. because it’s the only American game popular in Qatar and the region. So the four big sports in the U.S. are, American football, baseball, and ice hockey and basketball and the other three sports, is hardly any presence in the region. For example, we have one ice rink in Qatar, but so basketball, really provides opportunities for engagement and interaction. For example, also for students could have exchanges.

Mirgani [00:9:31 – 00:09:37]

Exactly and basketball is really popular on American university campuses. And Georgetown has also a strong basketball team.

Reiche [00:09:37 – 00:12:05]

Yeah. And I mean, some people say nobody would know Qatar without the FIFA World Cup. And one could also say not everybody would know Georgetown without its basketball program. Of course, Georgetown is well known for its academic merits, but basketball made a major contribution to make Georgetown a national brand in the U.S. and beyond. So the men’s basketball team is featured on national TV, and everybody who is reading the sports section would like read about the Georgetown team. And Georgetown men’s team plays in the same arena as the professional NBA team in Washington, D.C. plays. It’s now named Capital One arena. It always had it was named by a sponsor and it has a capacity of 20,000. And just like recently when I was spending a week on main campus, I went to two matches which were attended by around 10,000 people each. And so Georgetown became national champion in 1984. It made it, a couple of times to the final four to the March Madness. Although the last time in 2006, which is a while ago. But also the women’s basketball attracts larger audiences and so it’s super important, but also for one other reason.  Georgetown was considered to be a white academic community until the years after World War II. And basketball really had to better engage with the city because the largest ethnic group in Washington D.C., are African Americans and Georgetown, was also one of the first teams that had a black coach in 1972. So it had Georgetown transforming into a more diverse community. And here in Qatar, of course, our students also play basketball and both male students and female students. So it’s one of a few team sports where we have teams in both and basketball different to football operates in Education City and in a mixed-gender environment. So I could also go to a match for example and support our students.

Mirgani [00:12:07 – 00:12:18]

That’s great. So for this project specifically, what are you thinking? What are the pillars that are going to guide this project? What kind of initiatives are you going to have under it?

Reiche [00:12:19 – 00:12:33]

Yeah, I think, of course, our main objective is to have an academic output, as we had in previous sports projects. So I put them here in front of me, that were two books that were the outcome of sports projects (shows the Sports and Society and Football in the Middle East books) we were running in CIRS.

Mirgani [00:12:34 – 00:12:37]

One of which you are a co-editor right?

Reiche [00:12:37 – 00:14:24]

Yes. Of this one (points to the Sports and Society book). And so and CIRS operates after a well-established model so we gather experts, local and international experts and we discuss research gaps and in one meeting and later on a later meeting then so topics are distributed. And in a later meeting we would discuss papers which will finally turn into a book publication or in a special issue of an academic journal. And different to the previous projects we will not just approach people. We also have a call for paper to have give really everybody the opportunity who has interest and knowledge to make a contribution. But also what we learned from the FIFA World Cup project is that we want to go beyond that and also contribute to constant knowledge production. And we will do so with this vlog where we are just now producing the first episode and and the lecture series. And so we hope that by doing so we can inform the community of scholars, but also practitioners, like journalists who are interested in the topic, knowledge and who are willing to share that. And so by doing so, we hope that we can contribute to a better understanding of the role of basketball in Qatar, in the Middle East, but also the role basketball plays for U.S. engagement with this part of the world.

Mirgani [00:14:25 – 00:14:40]

Thank you, Danyel, for that very interesting overview of this research initiative and anyone who wants to find out more about it, it’s on our website cirs.georgetown.edu. Thank you, Danyel.

Reiche [00:14:40 – 00:14:40]

Thank you.



Speaker: Dr. Danyel Reiche is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS) and a Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University Qatar. He also lead a CIRS research initiative on the FIFA World Cup 2022. With Paul Brannagan, he published the book Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change (Palgrave Macmillan 2022) and edited the volume Handbook of Sport in the Middle East (Routledge 2022)

Moderator: Suzi Mirgani – CIRS, GUQ

Vlog 2: America’s Game in the Middle East – Robert Emmett Curran

In this vlog Danyel Reiche and Professor Robert Emmett talk about the history of basketball at Georegtown University, D.C.


Danyel Reiche [00:00:00 – 00:01:13]

Welcome, everybody. My name is Danyel Reiche. It gives me great pleasure to welcome today, Professor Robert Emmett Curran, a Professor Emeritus of history at Georgetown University, where he served as a faculty member for 32 years. Professor Curran is the author of three books on Georgetown University’s history. The first one on the first 100 years of Georgetown’s existence after it was established in 1789, titled “From Academy to University.” The second one titled “The Quest for Excellence,” covering the period 1889-1964, and the third one “The Rise to Prominence, 1964-1989.” Professor Curran also published an article on the history of basketball at Georgetown University titled “The Rise and Decline of Georgetown University Basketball in the Thompson Era, 1972-2017.” But basketball is also featured in his books on the history of Georgetown University, particularly in the second and third book. Thank you very much, Emmett, for joining us today.


Robert Emmett Curran [00:01:14 – 00:01:16]

Happy to be here with you.


Reiche [00:01:17 – 00:01:30]

My very first question is why were you interested in studying basketball? Were you always interested in basketball or did you become interested in basketball because it’s so important for Georgetown University?


Curran [00:01:31 – 00:02:34]

Well, I must say that I was interested in basketball before I came to Georgetown, before I joined the faculty. And in 1972, that happened to be the very same year that John Thompson came to Georgetown as its basketball coach. And indeed, Thompson, one of the first things he did was to approach some of us on the faculty about becoming, basically, the scorers and recorders for the basketball games that we’d have on campus at that time. So I spent the first several years at Georgetown working on the scorers desk at Georgetown’s home games. So my involvement with Georgetown basketball started almost immediately.


Reiche [00:02:34 – 00:03:02]

Awesome. So everybody, I mean without exaggeration, I think everybody in the U.S. knows Georgetown University, it’s a national brand. But more than that, I think, internationally also Georgetown is very well known and basketball is one of the reasons. So how would you say, how did basketball help Georgetown in becoming a national or maybe even international brand?



Curran [00:03:03 – 00:07:56]

Well, I think, basketball had a good deal to do with Georgetown’s rise to prominence. I think it was one of the  key ingredients to Georgetown more or less making it to the national and international maps. And it’s interesting how that happened. As I, to explain in the article and volume three of my history, John Thompson’s hiring came about as a result of Georgetown’s attempt to greatly improve its image, both with the local community, which was a black majority community. Washington, D.C., by the 1970s was a majority black city. Georgetown itself had become, particularly since the Civil War, kind of a white enclave within this majority black city that was fairly isolated from the larger city. It very much was still within its southern oriented tradition. And in the early 70s, by the early 70s, Georgetown was trying to break out of that image. It had been finally caught up in the revolution that the 60s represented for racial justice, and it wanted very much to diversify its student body. It had not had any black students until the post WW two period. In fact, the largest school in the university, the College of Arts and Sciences, had not had a black student until the early 60s. So just a decade before Thompson came to Georgetown, Georgetown was still not integrated. So when Georgetown had such a terrible season in 1971/72; that the coach resigned and they started a search for a new basketball coach. Charlie Deacon, who was the Dean of Admissions at that time, the very person who was trying to diversify Georgetown racially and aggressively recruit black applicants to Georgetown. Charlie approached Father Robert Henley, who was the president of Georgetown at the time, and said “I think it’d be a wonderful thing if Georgetown could have a black basketball coach. It would do more for changing our image locally and nationally than anything else I can think of.” And so the President thought this was a great idea. He appointed Charlie Deacon to head up the search committee and they basically went out and recruited John Thompson, who was coaching, at the time, at a local Catholic high school. So they persuaded Thompson to become a candidate, and the search committee, naturally enough, selected Thompson. So that was how he happened to come to Georgetown. They said “You know, we’ll be very happy if you can get us a couple of appearances in the National Invitational Tournament.” The NIT, which by that time had become the second tournament to the NCAA at that point. But they were setting the bar really low for Thompson, if he could do that. But Georgetown had already been even in the NIT once in the last 20 years, so it wasn’t asking much, but what Thompson delivered over the next 20 years was something far in excess of what they were hoping he might do. He really put Georgetown on the, not only on the map as a basketball power, but he really, as I said, was a factor in Georgetown’s rise to prominence nationally and internationally.


Reiche [00:07:57 – 00:08:49]

Yeah, and to highlight 1984 winning the national championship. And you talked about now the role of basketball for Georgetown to become a more diverse place, and particularly integrating the African American community, as a majority population at that time of the city, into university operations. How about gender? When did like women’s basketball become more prominent and play a bigger role? I mean, they’re not playing in Capital One arena as the men’s team. They play on campus in the McDonough gymnasium, but still like a big hall which fits like two and a half thousand people. I’ve been there myself to matches, so a great atmosphere, many students watching and supporting. So what can you tell us about women’s basketball?


Curran [00:08:50 – 00:12:40]


Well, as Georgetown did not… It’s the largest school, the College of Arts and Sciences, which is where the majority of the undergraduates would have been in the 70s. Georgetown did not integrate its college gender wise, until 1968. So a few years after they admitted the first black, black males to the college, they integrated the college to become co-ed. And it’s interesting that initially they wanted to just have a very limited number of women in the college. 25, I think was their initial quota. Well, almost immediately, that went out the window, so that within a few years, the females were almost a majority within the college, and that meant that they had to begin intercollegiate sports for women as well. That was the time that Title IX went through in the early 70s. And so I was on the athletic board at that particular time, and I remember we had to decide how we were going to implement Title IX which we’re calling, basically, for equality for women and men’s sports. So we decided that we had to be, we had to have an equal number of major men’s sports, and major women’s sports. So I can remember when we decided we’d have two each and for men It was quite easy. Georgetown had dropped intercollegiate football, so that wasn’t a possibility. So it was going to be basketball and track. Georgetown had a very strong history in track and field. But for the women, it wasn’t at all clear what should be the major sports for them. And I can remember, again, track became one. First of all, since they performed together, that was easy to implement. But the second sport, we weren’t at all sure what would become the second major women’s sport. And I remember we decided to allocate our remaining scholarships between two sports for women, volleyball and basketball, and to see which one emerged over the years. Well, at the time, women’s volleyball was much better than women’s basketball at Georgetown. But over time, that changed, and women’s basketball became the second major sport for women. And they had some… and by the late 80s, they were becoming very competitive in the Big East, and had some success that lasted into the early 90s. So I mean they had their own brief period of glory, if you might say.


Reiche [00:12:41 – 00:13:05]

So before we, the book stops at 1989, because we maybe in the final part of the conversation, talk about contemporary issues. What else maybe you would like to add from like the second and third book where you were talking about basketball? Is there anything else we should know about the history of basketball at Georgetown?


Curran [00:13:06 – 00:15:55]

The peak for the Thompson era at Georgetown was certainly in the early 80s when they had the teams led by Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd. And you can argue that Georgetown came very close to winning three straight NCAA championships. But in 1982, their first appearance in the NCAA finals, they could have beat North Carolina. They lost by two. They lost by a point. But only because a North Carolina player, Georgetown came down with a few seconds left to try to win the game. Georgetown, a North Carolina player was so out of position, James Worthy, that the Georgetown player thought he was a teammate and he inadvertently passed the ball to him rather than him setting up Sleepy Floyd, who was ready to take what could very well have been the winning shot. So they lost that heartbreaker. The next year they beat Houston to win their only NCAA championship. The fight on this in 85, Ewings final year, they played Villanova. And the Villanova coach, Massimi.. Massimino, remarked before the game that he said Georgetown was supposed to have perhaps the greatest college team that had ever been put together. So Massimino said “Well, I think if we could shoot 50%, we might have a chance to beat Georgetown.” Well, they ended up shooting 79%. They missed one shot in the second half. And that was a shot that was brought by Patrick Ewing. It was just surreal, their ability to score on that particular night. So again, Georgetown lost what could have been its third consecutive championship by two points. So I think that was certainly a remarkable run that Georgetown has sadly never come close to replicating.


Reiche [00:15:54 – 00:16:47]

Yeah. When we look at recent years, positive headlines on sport at Georgetown are coming from other sports like soccer, like lacrosse. I think the last time the men’s basketball team participated in the Final Four was in 2006. Ironically, that year I was a Visiting Assistant Professor on main campus. That was my first faculty job. And, so, but this is now again, 17 years ago. And now Georgetown mainly makes headlines like in March of this last year when Coach Patrick Ewing, who was already mentioned a couple of times by you as a player, but he also became a coach when he was fired. So what are your thoughts on the decline of Georgetown men’s basketball in the last years? And do you have any hope for the future?


Curran [00:16:48 – 00:18:31]

Yes, I do have hope for the future. I think they have a very fine coach in Ed Cooley, who is in his first year having replaced Patrick. It’s, you know, there are I think a number of reasons, but things Patrick just wasn’t able to recruit players that would really be capable of competing at the level that they need to compete at. I think Cooley should be more successful in competing and apparently, he has already begun to recruit for next year some very promising newcomers. So I am hopeful. But it’s, it has been over, as you mentioned, 2006 was the last time Georgetown got to the Final Four. It’s been a long bitter stretch in which Georgetown, which in the first 20 years of the Big East, 30, 25 years, you could say, nearly dominated. Was certainly one of the top powers in the conference. And it’s really sad to see what’s happened over the last 5 to 10 years where they’ve really sadly become a bottom feeder in the Big East. But I think with Cooley there’s hope of turning that around.


Reiche [00:18:32 – 00:19:06]

Okay. It’s always good to end with something positive and with hope. Thank you very much. Emmett, I have to say, I tremendously enjoyed the conversation, but also reading your work because one cannot just learn about basketball at Georgetown but also about the Georgetown history in total and the role Georgetown basketball played particularly for diversifying the community. I think this is a very important contribution. Thank you very, very, very much. And all the best to you.


Curran [00:19:06 – 00:19:09]

All the best to you. Thanks for having me.



Speaker: Robert Emmett Curran is a professor emeritus of history at Georgetown University, where he served as a faculty member for 32 years. His books include Shaping American Catholicism: Maryland and New York, 1805–1915 (The Catholic University of America Press, 2012); Papist Devils: Catholics in British America, 1574–1783 (The Catholic University of America Press, 2014); Intestine Enemies: Catholics in Protestant America, 1605–1791: A Documentary History (‎The Catholic University of America Press, 2017); and the three-volume The Bicentennial History of Georgetown University: From Academy to University, 17891889 (Georgetown University Press)

Moderator: Danyel Reiche, GUQ