Morocco’s World Cup team represents a new era of soccer nationalism

by admin

For most of the time that we’ve heard of it, soccer’s World Cup has been, in name and reality, a misnomer. It wasn’t about the world, per se. It was about Europe — and its colonialization of the worldItaly. France. Spain. Portugal. England, of course. And all the colonies and places to which Europe exported the game, not in some noble effort but to impose European aesthetics and sensibilities. In South American countries including, most notably, Brazil and Argentina. Asian nations Japan and Korea. African footholds south of the Sahara in West Africa. And countries north of the Sahara, such as Morocco, which on Tuesday in Qatar dispatched its last European colonizer, Spain, and advanced to the quarterfinals — only the sixth team from outside Europe or South America to do so in the tournament’s history.


And Morocco, the Atlas Lions, did so off the boot of Achraf Hakimi — born to Moroccan parents in Spain and reared in Spain, who historically would have been expected to play for Spain — on a third penalty kick after a scoreless draw. Spain missed all of its tries.

With a roaring World Cup moment, Morocco rolls to the quarterfinals

Morocco freed itself from Spanish rule in 1956 after 44 years. On Tuesday, it represented a new liberation movement in global sport.

For as Michael Murphy, a Queen’s University political scientist reminded in a recent paper on soccer in Africa, the game was “introduced into the African colonies by the Western capitalist colonial powers in an effort to make manageable the populations of the newly conquered territories. To make manageable the populations meant to introduce soccer ‘with the purpose of satisfying colonial ideas of and needs for order and discipline among the dominated population.’ ”

There remained plenty of remnants of European settler colonialism in this World Cup, Morocco’s breakthrough notwithstanding. The tournament continued to spotlight European soccer’s harvesting of the best talent from beyond its shores to feed its rapacious appetite for the game within its borders. You were hard-pressed to spy a European side without a progeny of an African country it once occupied. I couldn’t help but feel the pain for Breel Embolo when he gestured in apology after scoring for Switzerland against his birth country Cameroon.

“Therein lies the rub,” emailed Grant Farred, a Cornell professor of Africana Studies and English who has penned his love of soccer: “The ghosts of globalization, of forced migration, the refugee, the aspirant postcolonial type seeking greener, that is, European, pastures, whose sons are now wearing the colors of what was once an imperial flag. The contradictions abound.

“Why is it,” Farred asked, “that the Cameroonian lays to waste Cameroon?”

After all, it is rare that a European pummels his European birthplace, though it has happened. The great German striker Miroslav Klose was born in Poland.

But if ever a World Cup hinted that the tide was turning a bit, that the playing pitch was being evened, it is this one. And how apropos, given it is being allowed to grace the Middle East for the first time. After being in Africa for the first time in 2010, in a liberated South Africa. After being in Asia for the first time in 2002, in Japan and South Korea.

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