Soccer: The Second Religion of the Arab World
By: Noah Chani/Arab America Contributing Writer
The influence of soccer, better known as football, in the Arab world has long been powerful. The sport has also grown to become a woman’s sport in some Arab countries and hopefully more in the future. Soccer is the most popular sport amongst Arabs and it is believed to be a tool of resolving issues of social, political, and economic unrest within all Arab countries in North Africa and Asia.
The easy accessibility of the sport plays a large part of what makes it so popular in many of the Arab world’s developing nations. All it takes to be able to hone your soccer skills is a ball and five or six feet of space. The sport has grown in popularity as a team game but the Arab world has inspired an entire era of freestyle jugglers. The impressive style of juggling has become an art that is typically accompanied by music and strongly resembles hip-hop dance.
While there is still a distance to go in regard to allowing women an equal opportunity to play soccer within Arab Nations, strides are being made which is contributing to the popularity and soccer culture within Arab nations. If you find yourself traveling the Arab world during summer if you plan on having a nice day of relaxation at the beach be sure to plan carefully. If not, you will quickly find that most beaches are cluttered with children playing beach soccer with their friends.
On some of these beaches, it is hard to even find a spot for just yourself as game after a game will stretch down the coast for what seems like miles. The soccer culture in Arab countries is heavily aided by the fair year-round weather of MENA and the simplicity of the game. The atmosphere of the beach soccer competition of Arab nations is rich and organic. It plays a large role in the growing popularity of the game and allows its players to develop a unique touch on the ball.
The sport also plays a large role in the socio-political spectrum in Arab Nations. Many Arab governments have established and also promoted football leagues within their countries to ignite a sense of nationalism as well as to spark the economy. Because of this, government-sponsored teams and leagues usually are aligned to different political candidates because of their reliance on the monetary donations of that political figure. ‘Ultras’ who are considered the biggest soccer fans in Egypt, are a large group and are often the target of political candidates as they have also been very active in the revolution.
With all the vehicles keeping Arab soccer’s population growing, the number one factor is a growing representation in international matches and events. 2018 marked the first world cup in which four Arab nations qualified, while in the history of the event there have been eight Arab nations to qualify total.
Just one year removed from making world cup history, Arab nations made history once again when five Arab nations qualified for the 2019 African Cup of Nations Championships. While no Arab team has seen great success in the World Cup of late, seeing them on the international stage has a booming effect on the popularity of the sport in their respective countries.
The sport is still growing in the Arab world, but what makes it so unique there is the passion of their supporters. While supporters of English clubs would surely disagree, Arab soccer fans definitely get the rowdiest in the stands as the Law Enforcement can do little to stop them from acting how they please.
The sport is growing to encompasses a wider range of Arabs, including Arab Americans playing the game as its overall popularity surges and its international representation seems to be growing year after year.