Saturday 1 October saw the first day of the ACRPS symposium “Sports, Politics, Society,” at its Doha premises. Head of Research at the ACRPS, Haider Saeed, opened the event by welcoming researchers and noting that the symposium was organized to mark Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As an institution specialized in social sciences and humanities, Saeed noted that the ACRPS seeks to address the topic of sports through critical approaches within the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, history, political science, international relations, cultural studies. He emphasized that the symposium thus aims to shed light on an understudied topic within the social sciences, highlighting the conspicuous absence of sport in Arab research.
Around 20 researchers will present studies at the symposium, with papers set to be published in dedicated volumes of the Siyasat Arabiya and Omran journals.
The first session, “The Contribution of the Social Sciences to Studying Sports” was chaired by Amal Ghazal. The session situated the study of sports within the framework of the social sciences, highlighting the contemporary relevance of sports studies to the Arab region. Mahfoud Amara began with his paper “Global and Local Trends in Sports Studies in the Arab Region,” arguing that constructivism provides multiple insights into the study of sports as a complex social phenomenon, from minority integration and team affiliation in diaspora to the legitimising power of language in sports discourse. Haider Saeed then presented his paper on “The Social Sciences and Sport,” arguing that the study of sports via historical and sociological theory reveals distinctions embedded in Western societies, as well as exploring the emerging value of sports as a subject within the cultural studies discipline.
The second session, titled “Sports and Social, Cultural and Political Development: Qatar 2022,” was chaired by Abdel-Fattah Mady and evaluated Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup, its potential for building soft power and advancing cultural and societal development, and the role of media in branding a distinct Qatari nationalism. Senaid Salem Almarri and Saad Al Shammari presented “The Cultural Impact of Qatar Hosting the World Cup” which explored the “golden opportunity” offered by the World Cup for Qatar and the Arab states to combat stereotypes about the region and its cultures. They noted that an important result of hosting the World Cup appears to be the cultural transformation that arises from interactions among football fans from across the world within the host country context. Kamal Hamidou followed with his paper “The Media and Sports as Instruments to Construct and Promote National Symbols: The Qatari Strategy as a Model,” examining the particularities of the Qatari strategy, which has combined organizing massive athletic events with participating therein and constructing world-renowned sports facilities with media investment in those events. Wadih Ishac rounded off the panel with “Evaluating the Emotional and Psychological Impact of Hosting International Sports Events on Youth Residents: A Case Study of Qatar,” a quantitative study measuring the effect of global sporting events on the host community. Evaluating Qatar’s experience with major championships in the last decade, the research provides decision-makers and organizers with a better understanding of the results of hosting international or major events, as well as providing countries in the region with insight into the importance of hosting sporting events for community development.
Following the lunch break, Marwan Kabalan chaired the third session, “Sports, Governance, and International Relations,” which focused on the intersections of sports and politics by debating populism, ideology, and political conflict in sports, the development of sports as a tool for soft power, football and national identity, and authoritarian regimes’ exploitation of sporting achievements. Abdelkarim Amengay and Ammar Shamaileh presented “Authoritarianism and Olympic Medals: Does Regime Personalization Matter?”, wherein they use statistical measures to analyse the effect of the level of regime personalization on Olympic medal counts. The researchers found that, in the case of authoritarian states, the higher the level of regime personalization, the fewer Olympic medals the country won, regardless of the nature of this regime (e.g., one-party, monarchy, military, personalistic), accounting for the centrality of the structural factors that traditionally control the brilliance of any country in international sports competitions, foremost of which are economic growth and population. Ahmed Qasem Hussein followed with his presentation “Sports and International Relations: How Positivist Theories Have Dealt with Sports,” which sought to shed light on the impact of sports on international politics through the lens of positivist theoretical approaches in international relations, especially given that sports in today’s world is no longer merely an outlet for recreation but a globalised phenomenon infused with an international, institutional character. Based on a thorough review of extant scholarship, the presentation detailed how sports is conceptualised through the frameworks of realism, liberalism, and Marxism. Nadim Nassif closed the panel with his presentation “Measuring Countries’ Capacities to use Sport as an Instrument of Soft Power: The World Sport Power Index,” proposing an index to measure countries’ success in employing sports as a soft power tool in general, and the international ubiquity and universal appeal of football in particular.
After a short break, session 4, chaired by Ayat Hamdan, looked at “Sports as a Space for Resistance: The Case of Palestine”. Opening the session was Ihab Maharmeh’s presentation “The Evolution and Impact of the Sporting Boycott of Israel,” which traces the roots and evolution of the sporting boycott of Israel and evaluating its impact on the Israeli apartheid regime as a tool of international politics – reflects the impact of the interaction taking place between local protest movements and cross-border advocacy networks and on diplomatic efforts by Israel to promote sports entrepreneurship. The final speaker for the day, Ibrahim S. Rabaia presented his study “The Sports Establishment in Occupied Palestine (1967-1995),” which is based on focused interviews with Palestinian actors from the sports movement on occupied territory prior to the 1995 Oslo Accords. The research also surveys the archives of West Bank-based associations of sports clubs, the primary form of athletic organisation in the area on account of political conditions imposed by the military occupation, according to an analytical reading of the roles played by individuals and institutions, their interactions, and their position within the broader Palestinian nationalist movement.