The concept of “sportswashing,” in exposing how states or corporations use sporting events to cleanse their images on international stages, draws our attention to human rights abuses, labor conditions, political repression and the regulation of social behavior. Yet, examining the language around Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, the collective Habibi FC notes how this critique is unevenly deployed—sportswashing is most frequently applied to (non-white) countries from the Global South and partakes in a larger discourse of the “West vs. the rest.” Habibi FC call for a more nuanced use of the term, one that does not depend on Orientalist binaries and enables us to better see Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup as a strategic calculation: risking its moral image to project competence and gain global influence.
The Fall 2022 issue of Middle East Report, “Football—Politics and Passions,” examines the regional and global importance of the beautiful game in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The authors of issue 304 reflect on the multiple ways football moves individuals and systems between South Asia, the Gulf states, Palestine, the Maghreb, Sudan, Egypt and Britain’s post-industrial North.
The Palestine Marathon, like its counterparts elsewhere, is meant to be a feel-good event. But it also has a political point: to highlight restrictions on movement for all Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Ultras, or organized groups of football fans, represented an influential faction of the Egyptian revolutionary multitude in 2011. The ultras’ long experience of street fights with police at stadiums aided the revolutionaries in achieving many victories over riot cops in the early days of the January 25 uprising and subsequently. And the ultras’ combat prowess was not their only contribution to the uprising. More important was the carnivalesque character of their resistance, which transformed the protest scene into something more colorful, vital, choreographed and performative.
In a recent Slate article, Anne Applebaum makes the case that Egypt’s presumptive president-to-be ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi should look to India, Brazil or South Africa, rather than the United States or other industrialized states, for examples of how to “do” democracy. She rightly notes that Sisi’s argument that Egypt isn’t ready for democracy is an old standby for authoritarian regimes.
Celebrations rocked Gaza and the West Bank when Muhammad ‘Assaf, who grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza, won the region-wide singing competition known as “Arab Idol.” But spontaneous street parties also broke out in many other parts of the Arab world, including in neighborhoods across Jordan.
Amir Bar-Lev, The Tillman Story (2010).
Maziar Bahari opens his documentary, Football Iranian Style (2001), at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, where a large mural of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic until his death in 1989, peers down on the 110,000 soccer fans filling the bleachers. Like 75 percent of Iran’s population, most of the crowd is under the age of 25. Bahari’s lens focuses on a security guard chastising a dancing spectator and pushing him down into his seat. Undeterred, the young fan kisses the guard’s face and resumes his rabble rousing.