The only place I wanted to be on Saturday evening was Casablanca. However, as the final whistle to the quarter final between Morocco and Portugal was blown, I knew it was not Casablanca alone that must have erupted animatedly. I pictured huge pockets of Dubai and the rest of the Arab world to rising in a single euphoric leap to celebrate the win.
I am an ardent fan of the Spanish tiki taka, and together with my adoration for Barcelona during the Messi days, it was natural for me to root for Spain in the crucial round-of-sixteen match, but on the day Morocco played my old favourites, I took a clear stance – Morocco should take the cake because they were Arab, and my life itself has been chiselled to shaped by Arab nations over the past two and half decades. There was something more than mere patriotism and jingoistic sentiments that marked the victory of the Atlas Lions. A unifying sense of belonging.
When the team made further inroads by defeating Ronaldo’s men on Saturday, it felt as if the entire region had its geographical lines erased. Except for those whose adulation for Ronaldo was uncompromising, every regional football fan had only one prayer on their lips. And that included a vast majority that had associations of various kinds with the Arab world. Morocco ceased to be African nation or Arab kin. It became a combined emotion regardless of country and creed.
It was amazing to see how a sporting activity could break boundaries and bring people together. Although it has always been theorized that art and sports unify people, and we have seen illustrations of it on various occasions, it was never so evident as it was this time when expats and nationals alike rejoiced in a Moroccon victory in these parts of the world.
‘The North African in me is so happy now,’ posted an Indian friend who had spent a major part of her childhood in Egypt. I identified myself as Arab, and she as a North African, and both have our roots in India. A number of Asians I know had wagered their money on Morocco to take the victory lap. How better can it get for a world that is falling apart and getting torn by narrow views and widening schisms?
As the festivities went on, and my idea of a world unified by art, music and sport began to take shape, I wondered if this was a one-off case of an entire region coming together and rallying behind whom they thought were their ilk. It seldom happened in the Indian sub-continent in the case of cricket. If humans had this capacity to embrace differences so easily in the context of a game, why then do we get into a lather when someone from India supported the Pakistani cricket team in a match against another rival team? Why then is the sentiment so vitriolic when it comes to cricket in the subcontinent? Why does rivalry extend beyond the pitch and get into people’s hearts?
It isn’t as if there are no palpable differences between Arab and African nations or they haven’t indulged in verbal fisticuffs, yet when the day of reckoning came, there was only a single voice reverberating in the air – Go, Morocco, go! There was a fundamental identification with their shared culture and traditions, and it took no time for them to merge and become one for the occasion.
This seldom happens in cricket in the subcontinent. There is a nauseating level of politics meddling with people’s minds and corrupting their perspectives. Sport is muddied with parochial concerns, and art and music is trampled upon by partisan views that are often fraught with hate.
If a game of football can cobble masses of an entire region together and obliterate ideological differences, what greater common goals cannot be achieved if only nations and their governing heads came together with a common agenda for peace and harmony? As simplistic as it might sound, it is a question that must resonate deep in every heart.
It is not about sounding ecclesiastical or philosophical, it is about knowing that collectively there is a thirst for peace and camaraderie in us, and we have been denied it by those who have made derailing it a vocation.
Geo-politics might be a contest of strategies and crafty moves, where the opening gambit decides who dominates the game of global thrones, but if there is one thing I have come to realise from the way the Moroccon rally galvanized people from diverse backgrounds, it is this: It is not people who divide the world. It is politics and power. It is the overweening urge in man to dominate other people’s lives.
And it is a regret that these two variables are put above peace in the larger scheme of things.
Sport, one could argue, is also a variation of this contest to dominate, alas!
- Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author
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