When most people think about the word sports, they think of conventional games such as soccer, cricket, and baseball, but in the Arab countries, sports often have another definition. Indeed, conventional sports are practiced throughout the region, and physical activities were part of Arab culture centuries before colonialism. Though the development of sports into the twenty-first century has intersected with important cultural and historical processes, physical activities intended for entertainment and enjoyment also involve exercises attached to religious festivals and celebrations of the seasons, much as they have for centuries. Today we’ll take a look at the popular global sports that have permeated the Middle East along with those specific to the region.
Football (or soccer) is like a second religion in the Middle East. That makes sense since soccer remains the world’s largest sport, broadcasted across the globe. The sport appears to dominate the Maghreb, Gulf and Levant regions, as well as Turkey and Iran. Most of these countries have emerging leagues and attract quality players from Europe who are nearing the end of their careers. In 2022, Qatar will even be hosting the World Cup!
Iraq’s top sport is basketball – which could be a reflection of the years of American occupation, but don’t think it is important only in Iraq. The 2014 FIBA Under-17 World Championship was an international basketball competition held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This reflects how popular the game has become in the region.
Long neglected in the region, the sport is now getting popular. Now, you can see organized tournaments in Qatar, the UAE and Morocco. In 2000, The Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships was the biggest tennis championship in the region. Six of the top-seeded women’s players took center court.
Volleyball seems to be on the rise in the region since some teams seem to be worthy competitors. Iran’s volleyball team gave the United States a shocking defeat in 2015.
Swimming is not a very popular sport in the Middle East at a competitive level. However, regular folks love to go for a dive during the scorching heat of the summer.
Arab leaders are generally less enthusiastic about portraying themselves as sportsmen in public. People argue that sports are still a domain of amusement in the Arab World (hence, not serious). This, despite its popularity and power to mobilize the people. There are, however, some exceptions. King Hassan II of Morocco was a keen golfer. He stated that he took many political decisions on the golf course. The King declared in a 1987 interview for Jour de France that his best moments were when he was golfing. Also, the only thing that would stop him was when one of his ministers would bring an important file between two swings.
Considering that Middle East is usually a pretty hot area, you wouldn’t think that skating is popular. But did you know that the UAE’s top sport is ice hockey? That’s because the Emirates’ squad ranked 44th internationally in 2015 in the International Ice Hockey Federation. UAE did better in skating than other international sports federation.
Known as the game of the wealthy, falconry is a sport that involves taming and teaching a falcon to hunt for its trainer. Falconry was originally practiced by Bedouins to hunt hares and other birds for food. Later it developed into an esteemed sport. The UAE is well known for its falconry as it is also considered a traditional sport. Many of UAE’s rulers are falconry enthusiasts as the nation imports falcons from all across the globe.
Camel racing is a popular spectator sport in the Arabian Peninsula. People breed and train camels for racing from the age of two, mainly in the interior regions of the country. Winners get rewards and prizes range from cash to cars. Also, the camels that win are sold for vast amounts of money.
Sport is a tool for integrating into the international community. It’s an opportunity for investment and economic development which ought to mobilize and unite the country’s political and business elites.
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