GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Globalization and Women’s Participation in Sport: The Case of Qatar
Paper Proposal Text :
After successfully hosting the Asian Games in 2006, the tiny oil rich nation of Qatar burst onto the international sports scene. The emirate further cemented its position in the world of international sport with its competitive if ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics (reaching the final 5) and then with its stunning coup to win the hosting rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. At the same time, Qatar’s global aspirations in the sports world have been accompanied by pressure for the country to increase participation of women on its international sports teams. It has not escaped notice, for example, that Qatar remains one of only three countries in the world that has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee has strongly encouraged the inclusion of women on Qatar’s team. Qatar has responded by investing heavily in the development of elite female Qatari athletes and appears to be making some significant headway. At the recent Arab Games hosted by Qatar, for example, of the 785 female athletes competing 13% were Qatari women (both are record numbers). Thus, it would appear that in the area of women’s sports participation at the elite level the forces of globalization are having noticeable and positive affects in Qatar.

Globalization has also had negative effects in Qatar, especially on the health of Qataris. Chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity are now widespread in Qatar, due to a combination of factors including the transition from a primarily nomadic to a sedentary urban lifestyle with the concomitant influx of a Western, fast food diet over a short time period. Recognizing this issue, the Qatar National Health Strategy 2011-2016 includes in its goals “opportunities for physical activity for students at increased risk for physical inactivity (e.g., students with chronic diseases, girls in general)”

While it is clear that globalization is having beneficial effects on the participation rates of Qatari women in sports at the elite level and negative effects on the health of Qataris, what is not known is how to increase participation levels of women and girls generally in Qatar. To this point the Qatari government has taken a two-pronged approach to the problem. On the one hand, they have taken an approach analogous to the one used at the elite level, what can be called a “build it and they will come” strategy. As a case in point, Qatar recently installed exercise equipment next to the walking/running path located along the Corniche. It is not at all clear, however, that at the level of the population as a whole merely providing opportunities is sufficient in a culture where women have historically and still do not enjoy the same freedoms of movement that men have. Commenting on the public location, one woman noted “I do feel that most of the women, find it difficult to work out on these equipment (sic) for socio-cultural reasons. Many feel lack of privacy- doing a bench squat is not like brisk walking in the public.” Simultaneously, and perhaps in order to overcome such prejudices, Qatari sports officials have attempted to overtly link elite participation and more general sports activity for women. Thus, the Head of the Arab Games and secretary general of the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, was recently quoted as saying: “It is my hope that the Arab Games will provide inspiration to the next generation of Qatari athletes to embark on a journey to one day become Olympic champions in front of their home fans in the years ahead. (…) Furthermore, a higher involvement of women in sport means more female role models whom our children can look up to. This can only be good for the future of Qatar.”

Still, the question arises as to whether increased participation at the elite level has any noticeable trickle down affect on women and girls in Qatar. To answer this question I am undertaking survey research to ascertain the role, if any, that role models play in the attitudes and physical activity and sports participation levels of women and girls in Qatar. The survey examines their participation rates, what, if any, sports role models they have, whether or not they believe role models serve an important purpose in their own and other’s participation in sports and their evaluation of the attractiveness of female athletes. At this historic point in the development of elite female athletes in Qatar, the research provides some of the first empirical assessment of the effect role models may be having on women and girls in Qatar.

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