If you were to ask me for an example of a sporting event that inspires unity, my first thought would be the Olympics. National teams in a variety of sports come together in a worldwide event that can bring a pause to conflict, break down barriers, and bring together massive national and international communities. It seems like the only perfect example, right?
That’s what I thought before coming to Morocco.
Then I noticed dozens of flags from around the world going up in the local Carrefours, Marjanes, malls, etc. Advertisements for online contests for all-expense paid tickets to Qatar started cropping up on the tram. Shops in the Old Medina started flooding with sports jerseys, sweatshirts, and t-shirts with the Moroccan flag on them.
The World Cup had arrived, and with it came a surging wave of national pride that swept through Rabat like a tsunami. Soon enough, my classmates and I were buying sweatshirts with the Moroccan flag and the slogan “Dima Maghrib!” splashed across the back. My host parents started bringing their phones to meals, their eyes flicking across the screen as players rushed across the field. Cafes became even busier, with people arriving an hour in advance for any given match to sit together over a cup of Nescafe or sweet Moroccan mint tea and watch the game.
These gatherings were unlike anything I had ever seen before in Morocco, or even in the United States, and it was so shocking to see such unity over football in person. As an American, I had only ever really been exposed to Superbowl parties or the occasional Olympics viewing. Never football. It simply does not have the same meaning in the United States as it does in the rest of the world, and this became increasingly obvious as the World Cup progressed. Before I knew it, Morocco’s match against Belgium had arrived, and with it an invitation to go to a cafe with some classmates to enjoy an authentic World Cup experience.
Of course, I couldn’t say no! When else would I get the opportunity to witness the World Cup in a country where football holds such an important position socially?! So, with money in hand for a taxi ride and a beverage, I made my way into the center of the city with a group of my classmates, where we eventually settled at a cafe called “A La Bonne Tasse”. After several moments of back and forth with the cafe owner in a mix of French and Arabic, we managed to secure enough seats and tables on the terrace of the cafe and plopped down to watch the game.
From here, the atmosphere turned positively electric with anticipation. Everyone watched with bated breath as the ball was shot from one end of the field to the other. With each attempt to score, the tension only grew. Finally, it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the atmosphere.
Then…Morocco scored! But, wait, the referee was taking the point away? What?
One technicality and a reneged goal later, the tension began to climb once more. My friends were almost incapable of sitting still as they leaned forward, their wide eyes positively devouring the game as it played out in front of them. Their cups of Nescafe shook from their white-knuckled grip. Morocco was getting closer to the goal. They were almost there-
The resounding cheer nearly blew my eardrums out as everyone in the cafe leaped to their feet, screaming and laughing as they hugged one another and gestured wildly at the TV. Our hands hurt as we clapped wildly, shouting a myriad of cheers in French, Arabic, and English. Then, the game picked right back up, and we all but fell into our seats to continue watching.
Within seconds, the tension had already begun to climb. We all wanted Morocco to continue on in the Cup, and this was one of their only opportunities to do so! So, with bated breath, we watched as the two teams fought it out on the international battlefield. The ball was almost impossible to see as it was shot between Morocco to Belgium and then to Morocco again, and back and forth and back-
Morocco was getting close to the goal.
They were lining up.
The ball went flying-
Score! A second point for Morocco and none for Belgium! They had a solid lead now, there was a real shot they were going to make it through this.
From there, the game continued until it devolved into an anxiety-ridden countdown through the overtime. We all watched as the minutes ticked down, second by second. The rest of the world was quiet, completely invisible to our radar as we flicked between watching the players and the countdown. Another minute passed. Relief and terror built up simultaneously as the possibility of a win or a loss grew ever more omnipresent in our minds.
Two minutes left.
One minute left.
Thirty seconds left.
An ear-splitting scream of victory echoed in my ear as my friend shot up out of her seat, clapping wildly with the rest of our group. Morocco had won, 2-0, and would be continuing on to the next game!
For what felt like only half a second, everyone in the cafe jumped and danced and screamed and cheered. Then, with a rush of euphoria, we took to the streets! Banners and flags flew in the breeze, Morocco’s flag of red with its green star fluttering as if charged with the day’s victory. We could hardly contain ourselves from joining the crowds and dancing alongside hundreds of Moroccan people. Traffic stopped, cars were honking their own cheers as people waved flags from their windows. The tram cars were halted in their tracks as the swarm flooded everything from the streets and sidewalks to the parks and illustrious boulevards. People laughed and cried as they celebrated a win for Morocco’s national football team, and in turn, Morocco as a whole.
To this day, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a public display of unity and national pride as I’ve seen in the wake of the 2022 World Cup. Everyone is coming together under their national identity and celebrating their country’s fantastic achievements, and I feel so lucky to be able to witness it in person.
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A rising junior hailing from the College of Wooster, I'm pursuing a double major in Anthropology and French/Francophone Studies with an accompanying double minor in MENA Studies and Statistical/Data Sciences. These intersecting fields brought me to my upcoming study abroad experience in Morocco, where I am incredibly excited to explore the many cultures and languages that have shaped this beautiful country. Other interests of mine include international baking, travel, and music.