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Sailing beyond boundaries: Navigating Gulf sports mosaic in a changing world

Sailing beyond boundaries: Navigating Gulf sports mosaic in a changing world

13 Feb 2024

I had the pleasure to receive an invitation to speak at a plenary panel during the Play the Game conference held in Trondheim, Norway, from 4th to 7th February 2024, focusing on the overarching theme of “Clearing Sport, Sparking Change.” Play the Game, organized by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, is an initiative dedicated to elevating the ethical standards of sport while championing principles of democracy, transparency, and freedom of expression in the global sporting arena.

Several sessions during the conference were dedicated to exploring the impact of mega-sport events in the GCC and delving into the geopolitics surrounding the region’s investments in sports. The panel I participated in was titled “The Saudis are coming: How should world sport react to a new global sports order?”. In my presentation, in an attempt to offer a more nuanced narrative, I opted to underscore the ‘Half-Full Perspective’ rather than an empty one, reflecting on my journey in writing and conducting research about the phenomenon of sport from both an external and internal perspective (having lived in Qatar since 2015)

My key assertion was centered around the analysis of sports in the GCC region, emphasizing the critical challenge of bridging insider and outsider perspectives. Cultural backgrounds and geopolitical factors significantly shape these perspectives. It is imperative to avoid dismissing external insights solely based on their Western origins, recognizing that oversimplification hampers a comprehensive understanding of Gulf sports. Additionally, acknowledging the diversity within insider perspectives is vital, considering the Gulf region as a mosaic of cultures and viewpoints rather than a monolithic entity.

Moreover, Gulf sports are undoubtedly influenced by global trends but are uniquely interpreted and practiced locally. Bridging the gap between global and local perspectives aids in understanding how international influences blend with Arabian Gulf identity. Modernity, particularly in the Western secular sense, has shaped sports narratives by introducing concepts like professionalism and competition. Gulf sports have adeptly integrated these elements while navigating the complexities of modernization, closely tied to urbanization, socioeconomic development, GDP growth, and literacy rates…etc. Achieving a balance between modernization and authenticity, rooted in local identity and historical trajectory, is crucial for comprehending how Gulf sports maintain their distinctive character.

In conclusion, the sports landscape of the Arabian Gulf region has undergone significant evolution, transcending the boundaries of culture, politics, and economics. Understanding these transformative trends is of paramount importance for practitioners, media, academics, and policymakers, as the Arabian Gulf nations solidify their position in the global sports arena. These developments not only reflect their determination to compete at the highest level but also signify their aspiration to shape their own narrative in an ever-changing world.

Dr. Mahfoud Amara is an Associate Professor in Sport Social Sciences and Management at Qatar University.