Football Has Had a Dramatic Impact on Life in the Middle East Finds Georgetown Scholars


A new book by QF partner Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) titled Football in the Middle East: State, Society, and the Beautiful Game (Oxford University Press/Hurst, 2022) provides groundbreaking analysis on how football has dramatically shaped contemporary social, economic, and political life across the Middle East region.  

This collection of 12 chapters, the result of a three-year research initiative undertaken by GU-Q’s Center for International and Regional Studies (CIRS), brings together the original research of leading scholars exploring the relationship between football and international relations, and issues related to national identity, women’s rights, refugee communities, labor reform, social mobility, media broadcasting rights, the 2022 World Cup, and the rise of the region’s global football dominance. 

As Associate Professor of History at GU-Q and the book’s editor Dr. Abdullah Al-Arian summarizes in the book’s introduction, contributing scholars make “the critical point that football is not merely a platform upon which external political interests compete, but rather, owing to its power within society, football exists as a site of political contestation in its own right.”

Chapter authors include anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and political scientists, who use an interdisciplinary framework to position football as the complex thread connecting stakeholders from Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Iran, and across the GCC and beyond to mobilize people and movements and curry influence locally and internationally. 

Each chapter topic was carefully selected and refined through two rounds of working groups at CIRS featuring the contributors, all international experts in sports, politics, and regional geopolitics. The outcome of their work, said Dr. Al-Arian, also takes the study of football and the Middle East in an exciting new direction. 

“Media focus on the topics of terrorism, conflict, and energy has skewed public perceptions and left a legacy of prejudice. This book breaks stereotypes by showcasing the commonalities in how this game is experienced in societies in and beyond the Middle East, and pushes back on the narrative that the history of sports in Qatar and the region began with the World Cup.”

The publication is the latest outcome of GU-Q’s multi-year research focus on Qatar and the World Cup across multiple initiatives, resulting in published books, journal articles, media engagements, podcasts, courses and student activities, and other outcomes. “Qatar broke new ground with the winning bid of the first Middle East country to host the World Cup,” said Dr. Al-Arian. “That investment is also driving new ideas about the Middle East, and generated massive interest in the history, impact, and future of sports in the region, and the region itself.” 

There will be an upcoming book launch for Football in the Middle East: Sports, Society, and the Beautiful Game featuring Dr. Al-Arian and contributing authors as panelists on August 15 at the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum to bring the discussion of football in the region to audiences in Qatar.