Beyond the Workout: How Sports Brings Arab People Together
By: Emily Devereaux/Arab America Contributing Writer
In the Arab World, sports are a vital part of the culture and have a great impact on people across the Arab world. In particular, football (as called there) or soccer (called in the U.S.) However, other sports thrive in that part of the world as well. For example, Moroccan runners, Said Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj are iconic sports figures and have helped popularize track and field in Morocco.
The notion of sports has been one of the key activities used to unite Arab people. Countless competitions and matches were formed to allow Arab people to take part in sports and to bring the members of the Arab world closer to one another. Many Arab players and athletes have participated in the National Team Cup, Asian Cup, FIFA World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, League Cup, and Olympics.
Dating all the way back to the Pharaonic times, there are Egyptian wall engravings that illustrate wrestling scenes. For periods Arab, hawks have flown in the Gulf desert skies and tribesmen (Bedouin) raced their Arab horses across the sandbanks. In areas of the Arabian Peninsula, camel races are still often held.
Moreover, village youths, in the Lebanese mountains, traditionally arrange weight-lifting competitions, often using the old kibbeh stone in which their mothers crushed meat and broke down wheat, and that can weigh up to 100 pounds.
While the scope of sports has changed widely throughout time, one thing has been constant: sports have always been a way to bring people together.
Popular Sports in the Arab World
Football, which is also known as soccer, is one of, if not the most popular sport worldwide. Therefore, it is only fair that football is also one of the most popular sports in the Arab world. However, football also has a deeper meaning in this region. Due to issues within various government regimes having to do with gender and racial politics, many people used sports, specifically football, as a means to escape government control and take matters into their own hands.
One example is the rise of the first Algerian national team. Under French rule, Algeria was not allowed to have a national football team. Therefore the National Liberation Front formulated and many French football players joined their Algerian brothers and sisters in soccer as a means to rebel against French colonization. Finally, after gaining independence from the shackles of colonization, Algeria established its first national team in 1962.
Today, the Union of Arab Football Associations was formulated as the governing body of football in the Arab league. There are even women’s teams for women soccer players. Football has reached a wide audience throughout the Arab world and helps unite all Arab countries together in a fun and meaningful manner such as sports.
Specifically, in the past ten years, as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait gain traction, cricket has been growing in popularity throughout the Arab world. Following the successes of the UAE and Kuwait, many other Arab nations followed suit and began to dedicate more time and attention toward the game of cricket.
While cricket has been played for a while, it has only been growing in popularity more recently. For example, Saudi Arabia had the rules of the game translated into Arabic to be shared more easily and also established cricket leagues for many different age groups.
Similar to football, tennis is another sport that is significant for many reasons beyond just athleticism. In Tunisia, Ons, who is a Muslim tennis player found herself winning against a top-10 player from Slovakia. After her successful match, she gracefully waved the Tunisian flag above her head as she dedicated her match to her home country and to women all throughout the Arab world.
Tennis has been increasingly popularized throughout the region but specifically targeting women. Along with other professional players, such as Fatma al-Nabhani from Oman, women have been working tirelessly to level the playing field for other women. By establishing junior programs and using their platforms, they are helping young girls who dream of becoming professional tennis players achieve that goal.
United in Sports
Jerusalem is a historically politically charged city and lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, sports are a medium for unification. Organizations, such as PeacePlayers, seized this opportunity for peacebuilding, even at the microlevel. Jerusalem is largely segregated into Israeli and Arab distinctions, and there are also language and socio-economic barriers as well. Therefore, organizations such as PeacePlayers work to successfully bring Arab and Jewish youth together. Moreover, this award-winning organization is active throughout many other countries in the world, such as South Africa, Northern Ireland, and more places.
Over time, teams from different Arab lands start forming a team identity, regardless of their political views on crucial national issues. They work on tangible goals together to achieve winning basketball games.
While some tensions are high among some people of the Arab World, sports of many kinds, especially, football/soccer do mend tensions and promotes communication, understanding, and fun among these populations that deserve peace. In conclusion, sports can pave that road to peace, brick by brick, and game by game.
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