chapter  3
19 Pages

Unusual suspects

Sport in the Gulf as an arena of protest and change
ByJames M. Dorsey

This chapter examines the role of sports, in particular soccer, on social and political debates regarding gender and youth in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Soccer pitches are battlefields on which ruling families seek to align themselves with one of the region’s foremost pastimes, which evokes the deep-seated passion associated with religion but also displays the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional hegemony and project rival Qatari and UAE visions of the region’s future. Soccer pitches have also become a stage of debate for the right of women to attend male sporting events and to become professional athletes, and, in the case of Qatar, they have highlighted the unacceptable living and working conditions of migrant workers constructing facilities for the 2022 World Cup, which are tarnishing the state’s global image. This chapter provides an insight into the complicated dichotomous feelings of desire and reluctance for change, where rival concepts of what Gulf societies should look like are at stake, at a time when rulers are seeking to ensure their survival in times of economic change that threatens to rewrite the social contract that until now has underwritten their grip on power.