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The Emergence of Action Sports in the Middle East: Imagining New Mobilities with Parkour in Gaza

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Transnational Mobilities in Action Sport Cultures

Part of the book series: Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship Series ((MDC))

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Abstract

To date, action sports have been a predominantly western phenomenon. Despite increasing diversity, many action sports (such as BMX, surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing) have been dominated by young, white, heterosexual, privileged men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some Asian countries (particularly Japan) (Beal, 1995; Booth, 2011; Thorpe, 2011; Wheaton & Tomlinson, 1999). Moreover, with many action sports having roots in North America, and the majority of transnational action sport-related media and companies based in the United States, action sports have become closely interconnected with American popular culture, fashion and music, and particularly the ‘cool’ California youth culture aesthetic. For some — though certainly not all — this is part of the appeal. With the development of highly mediated action sport events such as the X Games, Gravity Games, and the inclusion of action sports into the Olympics, highly evocative images of (predominantly North American and European) action sport athletes riding waves, carving down snowy mountains, leaping across buildings and grinding empty swimming pools are reaching even the remotest of destinations. With the rapid expansion of the Internet and the global reach of transnational action sport companies, media and events, combined with the increasingly ‘exotic’ travel patterns of action sport athletes and enthusiasts, children and youth throughout the Eastern world are also exposed to action sports.

When I was young, I could not imagine that anything would dominate our consciousness more than our isolation or the occupation. All of Gaza was a series of obstacles — closures and checkpoints. Today, all and any obstacles are my point of departure. With free running, I overcome. (Al-Jakhbeer, co-founder of Parkour Gaza, cited in Shahin, 2012, para. 9)

Many young people in Gaza are angry because they have very few opportunities and are locked in. An art and sports form such as free running gives them an important method to express their desire for freedom and allows them to overcome the barriers that society and politics have imposed on them. It literally sets them free. (Gazan psychologist, Eyad Al Sarraj, MD, cited in Shahin, 2012, para. 17)

This chapter is based on work conducted with the help of Nida Ahmad (see Thorpe & Ahmad, 2013). I am grateful to both Nida and Sage Publications for permission to republish parts of our article entitled ‘Youth, action sports and political agency in the Middle East: Lessons from a grassroots parkour group in Gaza’ in this chapter.

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© 2014 Holly Thorpe

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Thorpe, H. (2014). The Emergence of Action Sports in the Middle East: Imagining New Mobilities with Parkour in Gaza. In: Transnational Mobilities in Action Sport Cultures. Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230390744_8

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