The Formation of an Olympic Nation in the Persian Gulf: sociocultural history of the sport in Qatar, 1948-1984

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Current studies related to sport in Qatar are, mainly, focused on elite-sports and mega- events, specially analysing national representation, political legitimization and image- making in a globalized (post-modern) context (Amara, 2005; 2012; Foley et. al., 2012; Khodr, 2012; Scharfenort, 2012; Dun, 2014; Ginesta & San Eugenio, 2014; Brannagan & Giulianotti, 2014; 2016; Dorsey, 2014; Reiche, 2014). However, historical researches of the sporting phenomena in Qatar are completely under developed. Therefore, this study aims (1) to understand the introduction of modern-sport in Qatar, analysing the appropriation by local community as sociocultural practice, including the creation of the national sport governance structure in the wake of the country modern society; and (2) to analyse the sport role in a nation-building project of Qatar, considering sociocultural and political practices in the national sport governance to empower the royal family and achieve national representation through the international sports and Olympic system. Because of the pioneer aspect of the thesis, the first methodological phase of this study is a content analyses (Krippendorff, 2009), in order to, systematically organize the written sources. The primary sources used (letters, telegrams, books, images, videos, etc.) were mostly found in archives outside of Qatar. The secondary sources are books considered sport “official versions” published by governmental institutions. The study also uses oral sources under the Oral History perspective (Abrams, 2010). The analytical guide is based on the hermeneutical “circle of understanding” (Gadamer, 2004) and all sources were analysed under the post-structuralism paradigm of the Cultural History (Chartier, 2000; Burke, 2004). Moreover, the study has an interdisciplinary approach including ethno- symbolic and modernist paradigms of nation-building and national identity (Smith, 2009; Norman, 2006). Then, modern-sport was interpreted in the context of post-colonial developing societies (Riordan, 1986). The study sheds a light on the historical relation of the Qatari royal family (the Hamad Al-Thani lineage) power consolidation within the local society and modern-sports. Thus, this research focused on the governmental practices towards sports for nation-building purposes amid Qatar’s historical period of political shift from British protectorate to an independent Arab-Muslim country in the Gulf region. Therefore, Qatar state-nation origin is, in fact, an Al-Thani power-genesis that can be analysed as one of the “first visible signs of collective similarity and difference” (Smith, 2009, p. 39) which were historically constructed around Arab-Muslim similarities that sport played a decisive role. In this sense, the first signs of modern-sport activity in Qatar iii Abstract (ca. 1946) appeared on the (1) oil company’s leisure facilities constructed for foreigner workers activities (where emerged the first “sport club” in the country the Etihad Al-Arab in 1948); which later was (2) appropriated by the local community in Doha (capital) as part of their leisure activities, especially through “young kids” (shabab) that could enjoy plenty of free time and “empty” public spaces in their neighbourhoods (farjan); and then (3) inserted in the national educational system (schools) under the leadership of Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani. When the British government announced its departure from the Persian Gulf region (1968), sport played an important role to express national autonomy among the protectorates. Within Qatar, the modern-state apparatus (Laws, Decrees, Regulations, etc.) embraced sport and became an “official” governmental tool for the royal family. The influx of foreigner drastically increased after the country independence (1971) and Sheikh Khalifa’s coup d'état on February 22nd, 1972. Although Sheikh Khalifa “inherited” the British establishment of the “Al-Thani state” during the protectorate period and enhanced to bin Hamad Al-Thani nation, the Qatari society lacked civic myths. Despite naming streets, Sheikh Khalifa used modern-sport to (1) shape a national identity, (2) consolidate the Hamad lineage in power, and (3) have Qatar sovereignty recognized worldwide. In the Qatari social imaginary, the arrival of “modernity” in the “nation” was “felt” through the practice of sports. However, an “adaptation” of the local sport governance system was necessary to become part of the “Olympic system”. When the IOC granted full recognition to the QOC (1980), the Qatari authorities started the diplomatic use of the Olympic network while the “nation” was getting ready to attain global events by participating in different sporting events. Gradually, a multicultural society became united under the “marron colours” and gave political stability to the royal family govern undisputedly the country. The first Olympic participation (Los Angeles 1984) was the affirmation of Qatar’s national autonomy on global stage differencing themselves from the former British protectorates. At that moment, sport was (1) already a sociocultural practice integrated in the society; (2) appropriated by the government to inculcate national believes based on Hamad Al-Thani allegiance and Arab-Muslim cultural elements; (3) a royal family tool to evolve a multi- ethnic youth towards a national narrative and social mobility possibilities; and (4) the government instrument to assert national autonomy worldwide and regional political influence. Appropriating sports in the national narrative, reinforced by the Olympic participation, the Emir could finally claim to the society that Qatar was a modern-nation part of the world. iv
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherDeutsche Sporthochschule Köln
Number of pages416
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ID: 3998201


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