We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
In discussing culture a few days ago, I mentioned a number of different arts and elements, but omitted one of the most important and universal parts of all culture; sports! In the United States, there is a massive industry surrounding sporting goods, professional athletics and amateur competition which approaches $100 billion dollars every single year. It’s obviously an integral part of the American cultural landscape, but what about in Muslim world?
All sorts of athletics are incredibly popular in Muslim majority countries. People watch and play sports every day. There are many sports blogs discussing professional sports, locals sports and even Muslim women in sports. In Somalia, when a local extremist militant group banned watching the 2010 World Cup under penalty of death, people risked their lives and continued to watch because their love for soccer was so great.
In the 2008 Summer Olympics, every single Muslim majority country participated with the exception of two, Brunei and Kosovo. Although all the rest of the Muslim nations competed, altogether they won only 60 medals of the 958 which were given out. Their lack of accomplishment was irrelevant however, as many countries were excited just to be participating on a global stage.
Soccer is quite possibly the most popular sport in the entire Muslim world. People get unbelievably excited for the World Cup, Premier League and every international soccer game. They dance in the streets after big games and demand that shops show the most important matches on their TVs. Children grow up playing soccer. The Global Sport Fund has held soccer camps for kids all over the Muslim world in order to encourage their love of the game and keep them away from difficult conditions in their home countries. There are even websites covering the sports news in the region, from the Iranian women’s team FIFA ban to the issues with the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar has been making headlines all around the world with their surprise winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the subsequent allegations of bribery. The obvious desire for a huge event like the World Cup to take place in the Muslim world is backed by many reasons. It would first and foremost, bring money to the region, creating jobs and almost certainly helping the economy throughout the Middle East. It would inspire countless new athletes. Kids love soccer no matter what, but to have the World Cup take place in their region would bring the enthusiasm to a pinnacle. Furthermore, the World Cup could be a great distraction to a region which needs a distraction. Whether or not the FIFA tournament winds up in Qatar or not, soccer will remain influential in the region and could do great things.
Sports have the power to inspire and change a region. They can inject happiness by allowing those who have been afflicted with political or religious strife in their homeland to forget about the problems going on and focus on kicking a ball around, or shooting some hoops. With the recent upheavals all around the Muslim world, for people to stop and watch a little soccer could be incredibly soothing.
Volunteers often bring their own personal favorites sports with them. Hockey, Baseball and American Football are rarely the popular sports in the Muslim world which typically favors soccer, cricket and even basketball and rugby. While volunteering abroad, make sure to play some sports with the people you’re staying with and working with. Maybe teach them a new game which they haven’t played before. Sports are beloved throughout the world, from Texas to Tehran, so don’t hesitate to use them as a tool to bond with people anywhere and everywhere. As always, look into our directory of organizations facilitating volunteer service in the Muslim world and remember that not only are athletics universal, but just because they’re games, doesn’t mean that they can’t change lives.