One would be right to surmise that issues other than the technicality of the sport have been in the limelight more than ever before during the on-going FIFA World Cup in Qatar. For us in Africa, in particular, the two teams of Morocco and of France have been a subject of heated debate about where our loyalty is. Is it to those who are African by geography, but ethnically are of Arab descent or is it to those whose parentage is of the first nations of Africa, but their nationality is of a European country.
The color of our skins is also up for debate. I saw a tweet in which a parent claimed that for the whole 90 minutes of the semi final game between France and Cameroon, he struggled to explain to his children which team was African and which was European. It reminded me of the 2018 World Cup when Trevor Noah angered France’s Ambassador to the United States with his joke in which he congratulated Africa for France’s Wold Cup victory, since many of the 2018 French squad were of immigrant heritage. Just as the 2022 French squad is.
Ambassador Gerard Araud thought otherwise and he surmised that Trevor’s joke was not only far from the truth, but was, in fact, racist. The Ambassador insists that diversity in backgrounds among the squad is a reflection of France’s diversity. He surmised that by calling them African, Trevor was denying them their French-ness. Well, some may argue, that this very statement of the Ambassador was the more problematic. For as Trevor questioned, why can’t they be both – Frenchmen of African descent? Insisting that they are only Frenchmen de facto denies them their African roots; their African-ness. I am with Trevor on this. It is a fact that the French squad has players whose ancestry is from at least 10 African countries – Cameroon (3 players), Angola, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali (2 players), Benin, Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Congo (3 players) and Morocco.
Same applies to Morocco’s squad. There is no denying their Arab roots; and as well as their belonging to Islam. Them being of Arab descent makes their brown skins fairer than of the majority of Africans, but African they are. Then their is that ignorance of many of us in East African in particular. We hold a perception that the majority of Africans are Christians, which is far from the truth. African followers of Christianity and of Islam are nearly equal. And so, it is feasible for one to be a Muslim, an Arab and an African at the same time; as many of the Moroccan squad are.
The binary analytical framework – either or; or them and us is unproductive. Let us embrace and appreciate multiculturalism of an individual and then focus more on how he plays the game. Going into the final I will cheer loudly when Messi does his thing and equally when Mbappe does his.