I had the honor to serve as the Panamanian ambassador in South Africa, for a second term from 2009. That was the time when the first World Cup was hosted on African soil. I attended seven matches in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban, including the semi-final match between Germany vs Spain and obviously, the Finals. I had the opportunity to see Maradona directing his team and watched Messi score against South Korea. Shakira’s theme for this Cup, Waka Waka, became a hit and is one that still draws the crowd to the dance floor whenever it was played, especially in Africa.
Until then, Africa had only reached the Quarter-Finals, in three different occasions. Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal were the nations that held such honor, until now. This past week at Qatar, that narrative has changed. The Atlas Lions successfully beat three major traditional European football champions. Morocco is among the four semifinalists! You don’t need to be African to be proud about this accomplishment. As a consistent follower of the World Cup and a soccer fan, I acknowledge that this is the first time it really feels as the global competition it always had to be.
Since Qatar was granted to be the 2022’s Cup Host, controversy arise around it. You know what, I am not going there. Heads roll at the top of FIFA. I can’t deny my disappointment, but also, I will not allow such charade to kill the magic for that boy that one day saw how the Brazilian team, finally carry back home the Jules Rimet trophy. That kid was me and he’s still here, like many others.
The beauty about the game is to watch how many underdogs, even when they don’t reach far, execute a dignifying performance on the field against the powers to be. For a while, European and certain South Americans teams, like Brazil, were considered the mega-stars. Slowly, but surely, teams from across Africa and Asia started showing what they are made of up. Some might have considered that soccer was a colonialist game used by the Europeans to coated sugar the oppression against their subjects. I totally disagree. Moreover, it is just an opportunity to recover one’s dignity.
World sport competitions, are meant to evolved. They must become inclusive by promoting respect and tolerance. Every single human being that is talented at any game, has the right to be given the opportunity to prove and show themselves through it. An African or Asian team reaching semifinals at a World Cup must not be the exception, but the rule. Fans must become openminded about who is entitled to participate at any given match. Yes, fans have the right to support a team, but not by being aggressive or offending members of an opponent squad. There is space for everyone.
I wish Morocco reaches the Final, playing a different match, one of harmony. Yes, it is time for Africa, but also time for humankind. Let’s embrace the good spirit of sportsmanship. Let’s celebrate the winners, but also applaud the defeated for their effort to compete and make it all the way to that moment. At the end of day, the pioneers of the FIFA World Cup must have been inspired by the desire of seeing a world united, away from hatred and of the conflicts of war. For those that have never follow football, give it a chance and support this time an underdog. At times, we are all one.
by Rodrigo Chiari