FIFA World Cup 2022 has been the biggest international sporting event of the year. Some 3 million tickets were sold for the matches in Qatar, and tens of millions more watched the month-long soccer games on TV.
Palestine is the real winner of FIFA 2022 despite not participating in games at all. In shows of solidarity, the Palestinian flag was raised at virtually every game. And Morocco, the first African team ever to make it to the semi-finals, became a symbol of the skill and dignity of the oppressed, and lifted the spirits of those subjected to neocolonialism everywhere.
Various videos from Doha captured thousands of fans chanting slogans for a free Palestine. Attendees also held up a large banner for Palestine during the match between Tunisia and Australia. Other footage showed people weariang pro-Palestine memorabilia, from flags to armbands, to keffiyehs to scarves.
There was much chanting of “Free Palestine,” and other chants and songs for Palestine — in the stands, in the fan zones, in the streets and on social media. This overwhelming solidarity gave a big boost to the Palestinians living under occupation.
Winning teams also carried the banner of the Palestinian flag in addition to their own to celebrate their victories. So ubiquitous was the pro-Palestinian sentiment that Palestine was labeled the 33rd team in the World Cup.
Other short clips showed fans from western countries voicing their support for Palestine and easily taking up and wearing Palestinian flags. Palestinians interviewed in Gaza and Bethlehem shared, “The most joyful thing is that we see Palestine strongly represented, even though our national team isn’t part of the competition. But we see that all the fans, whether Arab or foreigners, are supporting Palestine,” and “I expected to see the Palestinian flag present at the World Cup, just because it’s being held in Qatar, an Arab country. But I didn’t expect to see this level of solidarity.”
Morocco team becomes a symbol of resistance
This tournament, offering a glimpse into widespread Arab solidarity, culminated in its final days in overwhelming support for the Moroccan national team, which advanced into the semi-finals after defeating soccer mammoths like Spain and Portugal. Fans across the world were quick to point to the anti-colonial symbolism of these victories, the triumph of Morocco over former African colonizers — Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
Morocco became the first country from Africa and the first Arab country to have ever advanced to the semi-finals. The Moroccan team’s successes engendered spontaneous celebrations throughout Africa, the Islamic and Arab worlds and in those many immigrant communities in the diaspora.
Morocco also became the torchbearer for Palestine. After the team’s defeat of Spain it posed for its victory picture holding not the Moroccan flag, but the Palestinian flag.
Palestinian team suppressed by Israel
The outpouring of support also raised questions about why the Palestinian national team did not participate in the World Cup despite being held in the Middle East. Under Israeli apartheid, Palestinian soccer teams and players are systemically repressed and even killed, and other avenues for recreation are routinely destroyed. For example, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed Ahed Zaqout in 2014, who was widely regarded then as a Palestinian soccer legend who played against France in FIFA World Cup in 1994. Other killings and attacks of Palestinian athletes have also pointed towards a deliberate Israeli policy of targeting sportspeople.
Israeli journalists told, ‘There is no Israel, only Palestine.”
There was a clear and direct rejection of Israel, Israeli journalists and Israeli apartheid throughout the games. Viral videos show sports fan refusing to speak to Israeli journalists, and Israeli journalists lying about where they are from, going as far as claiming they are from Ecuador and Germany just to interview soccer fans. Not only Arab fans, but fans from countries such as Japan and Brazil, were also seen rejecting Israeli apartheid. Israeli journalists were kicked out of restaurants and taxis after people found out where they were from. A Saudi fan made the message clear to an Israeli journalist: “You are not welcome here … There is no Israel, only Palestine.”
While the reactionary governments have normalized relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords in 2020 — including the reactionary monarchy that rules Morocco and oppresses the people — FIFA 2022 and the Arab people demonstrated that this is not their stance. Israelis were previously deluded about their welcome in these countries, but they were and continue to be met with a rude awakening — that the people’s hearts are with Palestine and there will never be any acceptance of Israeli apartheid.
Riyad Mansour, Palestinian ambassador and observer to the United Nations, summarized it best: “The World Cup in Qatar dealt a decisive blow to Israel’s illusions. The winner of this World Cup is already known, it is Palestine — with its flag carried by people from every corner of the Arab world and the rest of the globe, present in every match and in peoples’ chants. Ask Israeli journalists at the World Cup and they will tell you that nothing can normalize Israeli occupation, and nothing can uproot Palestine from the hearts and minds of people.”