Geopolitics dominate Middle Eastern sports

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This article is featured in the ORIENT I 2019

Sport has long played a key role in the development and politics of the Middle East and North Africa. Increasingly it has become a battlefield in the region’s multiple disputes as well as the effort of states to garner soft power, enhance their regional and global influence, punch above their weight, and undermine their rivals. The battlefields are numerous. They include the 2022 Qatar World Cup, institutions of global governance such as world soccer body FIFA and its Asian affiliate, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), media broadcasting rights, and in numerous incidents national football associations and some of the Middle East and North Africa’s most prestigious clubs. The strategies and tactics adopted in the sports diplomacy of the various nations are mirror images of their various regimes. Nevertheless, taken together, the battles make a mockery of the insistence of international sports associations that sports and politics are unrelated and separate and threaten to undermine the integrity of global sports governance.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.

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