Cricket, improbable passion in the Gulf

The PSG, Manchester City, the 2022 World Cup, the Grand Prix Formula 1 Bahrain, and lately the Paris-Dakar … bring us back to a time or another to images that the Gulf monarchies are seeking to carry on the international scene. But in the region, cricket is the most popular sport: it is favored by the many communities from the Indian subcontinent.

This Friday afternoon, on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, in a parking lot near exit 13, Ali, a Pakistani from the city of Peshawar, is practicing typing. The ball resonates on the concrete of the parking lot. His team of compatriots and friends is about to play a match of tape ball cricket, street cricket, against a group of Indian workers. During the week, these Friday players are Uber drivers, more rarely taxis; others are storekeepers, work in hotels or small restaurants often community, but for nothing in the world, they would not miss this appointment. The car park becomes a space for sociability and sharing around this overflowing common passion. An informal mini championship is taking place. Organized via WhatsApp, it takes place over several weeks.

This reality is not exclusive to Saudi Arabia: from the wasteland of Khasab in Musandam, a region of the Sultanate of Oman, to the car parks in the Al-Karama district of Dubai, via the stadium car park. Al-Sadd in Doha and the brownfields of Jeddah, the areas abandoned by the local populations come back to life through the passion for cricket, except in the city of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates where the authorities have banned the practice of tape ball cricket deemed too intrusive. Through these impromptu afternoon plots, it is the social realities of the Gulf that stand out and, at the same time, the commercial ties maintained for several centuries by Gulf merchants with merchants and workers from the Indian subcontinent. During the meetings between Pakistan and India, this overflowing passion spilled over into Dubai, so much so that the city saw its number of taxis in circulation drop.

Until the late 1940s, the populations of the Indian subcontinent were in the majority among expatriate workers from the Gulf. Indian merchants much involved in several Gulf ports economy, as evidenced by the place occupied by various Indian communities in the proper functioning of the economy of the Omani maritime empire in XVII th and XIX th centuries. In the 1950s, the boom in the rent economy was a factor of attractiveness for populations from Arab countries. This is why a passionate community of football has become the majority in these territories. But, in the context of the cold war, confronted with the emergence of pan-Arab and anti-imperialist movements, the various powers of the Gulf feeling in danger returned in the 1970s towards Asian immigration coming mainly from the Indian subcontinent. With this new migratory phase, the will of these various powers was to carry out a demographic shift by opting for populations that were not influenced by the political imaginations of the different societies of the Near East.

Today, the cricket no longer concerns only subordinate populations playing in parking lots during their (little) free time. The countries of the Gulf set up from the end of the 1970s federations and more slowly infrastructures to develop an actual practice of cricket. Clubs have also been founded within these companies by expatriates, generally from the 1990s, to meet the expectations of graduate classes from the Commonwealth and present in the region for economic reasons.

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