Sunday 2 October saw the conclusion of the ACRPS symposium “Sports, Politics, Society.” A total of 25 researchers presented their work over two days, in the lead up to the upcoming Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup. The sessions on the second day highlighted the issue of sports and social movements (the Ultras) and the impact of sports policies on social and economic integration, the social and cultural engineering of the athlete’s body and women’s identity in sport.
The fifth panel “Sports and Social Movements: The Ultras in the Arab Maghreb (1),” chaired by Mouldi Lahmar, examined the junctions of sports, politics and religion in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco by analysing the discourse of ultras groups through graffiti and slogans, as well as their role in protest movements. Mohamed Naimi was the first speaker, presenting his paper “Understanding the Ultras Movement in Morocco,” which addresses sports from a sociological perspective, particularly football and how it relates to society, by examining the ultras movement in Morocco. The second speaker, Kais Triaa presented, “Ultras Groups in Tunisia: The Intersections of Sports, Politics, and Religion,” which explores ultras activity in Tunisia by tracing its sociological significance across sports, politics, and religion, and exploring their identities and mutual social influences.
The sixth panel, “Sports and Social Movements: The Ultras in the Arab Maghreb (2)” was chaired by Morad Diani. The first speakers, Ali Semmouk & Hichem Saouli, presented “The Structure of Violence in Algeria’s Socio-Athletic Sphere: A Socio-Archaeological Approach to Football,” arguing that violence among Algerian football fans transcends the stadium, seeping into the wider social, political, and economic system, directly related to Ibn Khaldoun’s concept of ‘asabiyya. Wadia Jehouani & Aissa El Ghayyati followed with “Ultras’ Graffiti and Constructing Fan Identity: A Sociological Study of Symbolic Ownership in Tetouan,” who used an ethnographic approach to find that Tetouan ultras’ graffiti expresses symbolic ownership of the public sphere, where the ultras enter into two-dimensional symbolic conflicts with other groups.
Following the lunch break, Hani Awad chaired the seventh session “Sports and Local Governance,” tracing the relationship between sport and governance in the Arab world today, and the contribution of sport policies to economic and social integration. Abderrahim Rharib, Youssef Siame & Mohamed Boukhalkhal presented their study, “Provincial Sports Policy in Morocco as a Means for Socioeconomic Integration: The Case of Casablanca-Settat,” exploring how local and regional actors may enact provincial sports policy to achieve social and economic integration in the Casablanca-Settat province. Tayeb Rehail spoke next on “Public Funds and Algerian Football Clubs: AS Khroub in Constantine as an Example,” using an anthropological approach based on field observations and semi-directed interviews to understand the relationship between football club presidents and public money, as well as their social interactions with various actors in El Khroub, in Constantine, Algeria.
The final session, “Sports and Women: Gender Approaches” was chaired by Raouda Al-Kadri. Hicham Kamouny presented “The Social and Cultural Engineering of the Athlete’s Body in Morocco,” discussing the sociocultural meanings and connotations generated in relation to athletes and others involved in sports based on social recognition and the broader significance of sports within that same society. Chaimae El Ghazi concluded the event with her paper, “Women Athletes in Morocco: Of What Gender Identity May We Speak?” examining the relationship between the woman athlete’s body and gender identity with a focus on the case of Moroccan woman athletes.
Mouldi Lahmar, the Editor-in-Chief of Omran concluded the symposium by thanking the researchers and audience for participation. He also noted that the Arab research agenda has yet to carve out a true research field for sport in the social sciences, highlighting the opportunity here for the participants to engage in networking and research towards this endeavour. He suggested that they propose extensive and long-term research projects examining sports within the social sciences to the various research centres in the region. In this context, he noted that this symposium, as well as many others, would not have been held if it weren’t for the context of the World Cup being held in Qatar. This is another indication of the interrelationship between knowledge production and social dynamics. Finally, Lahmar reminded participants that both Omran and Siyasat Arabiya would publish two separate volumes based on the papers presented at the symposium.