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Morocco’s World Cup journey must be capitalised upon

National football team's success can inspire wider opportunities

Morocco's Achraf Hakimi celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against Spain at Qatar 2022 Reuters/Matthew Childs
Morocco's Achraf Hakimi celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against Spain at Qatar 2022

Morocco’s World Cup journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. The team has only conceded a single goal throughout the tournament and has defeated the star-studded Belgium, Spain and Portugal.

On Wednesday Morocco will line up against the current holders France as the first Muslim, Arab and African nation to reach a World Cup semi-final.

Irrespective of what happens, this Moroccan team has written its way into World Cup history.

The success of this squad has unleashed a wave of euphoria across continents.

Moroccan star Sofiane Boufal told journalists after the victory over Portugal that “this win belongs to all Arabs, to all Muslims”. 

English commentator Peter Drury said “the Arab World unites! The African continent believes! Its standard bearer continues to conjure with the barely believable!”.

Boufal and Drury’s comments reflect an awareness that Morocco’s performance resonates far beyond its own borders.

Their results have led to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan both telephoning Morocco’s King Mohamed VI to congratulate him on the national team’s achievements.

The Saudi prince remarked that it was “considered a source of pride to Arab countries”.

This sporting success will have sweeping implications for the North African nation’s national brand, creating significant momentum and the potential for new opportunities – especially as Morocco has been looking to the Gulf for economic assistance as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Morocco already has a vibrant tourism industry. Prior to the pandemic, it accounted for around 6 percent of the country’s GDP and provided more than MAD70 billion ($6.63 billion) to the nation’s coffers.

However, the sector continues to rely primarily on Moroccan nationals visiting from abroad, remittances and European tourists.

Morocco has had limited success in its attempts to attract tourists from the Americas, Eastern Europe and China. 

The progress of the Moroccan national team at the World Cup, and the overt display from the players of their unique identity, culture and beliefs, offers a golden opportunity to replicate the success of Turkey in expanding its tourism sector by using global exposure as a springboard for growth.

In 2014, Turkey released its drama series Dirilis: Ertugrul that was later licensed by Netflix. The story centred on a Muslim hero prior to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire.

The series evoked such interest among the world’s 1.9 billion Muslim population that the Turkish government was taken by surprise when smaller cities such as Sogut (Ertugrul’s historical capital) saw an increase in tourism of over 300 percent, despite the severe lack of infrastructure in the city. 

While a fictional drama cannot necessarily be compared to the euphoria of the World Cup, the example is relevant due to the unique nature of the excitement that Morocco’s team has evoked.

Where Morocco already attracts European markets, the World Cup offers an avenue to capitalise on the sudden interest beyond Europe and to carve out a share of new markets where it has struggled before.

The unique cross-continental, cross-cultural brand of this Moroccan national team has created a surge of interest that can attract significant numbers of new tourists which would provide much-needed relief for a country that has been battered by the impact of the pandemic, high oil prices and tension with its neighbour, Algeria.

The collective wave of support for Morocco at the World Cup, and the sudden unity of spirit in the African continent and the Arab World, also offers an opportunity to re-establish dialogue with Algeria and even to broach the topic of re-opening the borders and facilitating bilateral economic exchange that can only serve to benefit both parties. 

Whether such diplomatic engagement will happen remains to be seen.

What is clear, however, is that the momentum from this Moroccan national team has created new avenues of opportunity, and regardless of the result against France, this is unlikely to dissipate anytime soon.

Sami Hamdi is managing director of International Interest

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