Why Moroccan football team emerging as a trailblazer was the most hopeful takeaway of 2022

The year of hope


Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 11:34 PM

Sometime towards the end of March, sitting in a window seat on an Emirates flight to a destination somewhere in India, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had a mask on — one of those throwaway black ones that I’d purchased from Carrefour — so nobody could see I was smiling; if they did, they may have wondered if I had, in any way, stopped paying my mortgage to sanity.

I was smiling — full on, into my mask, muffling my lipstick — because I finally felt liberated. I was travelling home, after a long time, after a protracted phase when something as easy as catching a flight had become like a cryptic crossword puzzle. Would I need to get yet another PCR test done? Would the Covid strain mutate into something more sinister? Will there be another wave? Will there be more lockdowns? Will there be a new conspiracy theory?

The fog had finally lifted, and I could see clearly now. A trip back home — or anywhere else for that matter — was back to being what it used to be: simple, happy, fuss-free.

In 2022, the waning of Covid to a gradual no-show shrunk the world into an interconnected global village all over again. It was tentative at first; then the scepticism whittled down, slowly and steadily. As the masks came off and social distancing became a thing of the past and Expo2020 culminated in grandeur, we shrugged off individual accumulated baggage and hit the ground running, with as much grace as we could muster, and with as much gratitude as possible.

It was back to business.

For me, that 2022 was the year when hope proved to be irrepressible was best exemplified by the Fifa World Cup in Qatar — possibly the greatest football tourney ever held… and because football is regarded, by multitudes, as the most beautiful show ever, this was, in a way, the GOAT in the greatest show on earth category.

I am not really a football fan, I don’t understand its technicalities, its history, its geography… but this year, I received its intrinsic message. It unites. So it stood out like a beacon, showing us the dribble and the long pass towards a new world order, all the way into 2023.

Years and months of negative press from the western media had plagued this World Cup. Will the Middle East be able to do justice to it — was the question asked as naysayers piled on the negativity, even as the Fifa anthem presciently belted out: “Look who we are, we are the dreamers/

We make it happen, ‘cause we believe it…/

Look who we are, we are the dreamers,/

We make it happen, ‘cause we can see it…/”

And then, the region came together as one: as Arabs, as West Asians, as Africans, as Muslims… and as hopefuls. It was rare to see this kind of segueing of humanity, this kind of becoming an impromptu team, this kind of becoming cheerleaders for a movement. Football, this year more than ever, and especially in this part of the world, became a mascot for hope.

In my personal consciousness, the biggest — and most hopeful — takeaway was the Moroccan football team emerging as a trailblazer, embodying a thumping endorsement to the Arab world’s first World Cup. Yes, much more than Argentina’s triumph or Messi’s sure-footed shooting into the annals of history or Mbappé’s legion of evolving genius.

This hope tripped over to a setting away from the stadiums in Doha when the Moroccan team, once it reached home, announced that all of them will be donating their World Cup earnings to poor people in their country. There was not much drama, not much gamesmanship, just a quiet commitment to do one’s bit so that others can hope… and hope not in vain. (American pastor and TV show host) Fred Rogers had once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.” That’s what keeps hope afloat.

To round up this year, I’m meeting a former colleague from my first workplace, who I haven’t seen for more than 20 years. She lives in the US now, and we have never been in the same city — Calcutta — since I moved away too, in 2000.

With Covid playing spoiler in between, she’s “travelling home” after three years, and this time, miraculously, I will be in Calcutta around the same time. My time with her overlaps on the 29 and 30 of December, and there will be jetlag (on her part) and distances to kill (she lives on the other side of town). “Now that the Covid era is [hopefully] over, do you want to plan better and catch up in 2023 instead?” I’d asked her.

“No way,” she said. “Carpe annum, we have to meet this year, let’s seize the opportunity, 2022 will not come back again.”

So, getting back to BTS and the Fifa anthem, “Here’s to the ones that keep the passion/Here’s to the ones that can imagine.”

Let’s not shift the goalpost in 2023.


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