Role Models in the Media and Women’s Sport Participation in Qatar

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Susan Dun


Globalization has had both positive and negative effects on women in Qatar. On the positive side, Qatar has joined the global elite sporting scene, most notably through winning the hosting rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This world-class level activity has been accompanied by pressure for Qatar to increase participation of women athletes. Qatar has responded by dedicating considerable resources to women’s sports and Qatari women have been prominently featured in recent athletic events. At the same time globalization has wreaked havoc on the health of Qataris, including rampant diabetes and obesity rates that are the highest in the region and among the highest in the world. One strategy to increase women’s activity levels Qatari officials have voiced is that the women competing in the Arab Games and the Olympics are serving as role models. These female athletes have been prominently featured in the local media, to encourage women and girls to engage in regular physical activity. To ascertain if these new role models are indeed having an effect on female residents of Qatar, this article utilizes survey methods to investigate what role, if any, that role models play in the attitudes and physical activity/sports participation levels of women and girls in Qatar. The survey findings indicate that while personal role models such as friends and family play an important role in physical activity, public figure role models, such as those cited by Qatari officials, are far less frequently cited as influences and in fact, only one Arab public figure of any kind was mentioned as a role model inspiring physical activity or sport participation. After the analysis of the findings, the article discusses their implications for public policy in Qatar. 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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