Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Morocco outside
Morocco's Sofiane Boufal celebrates with his mother after defeating Portugal at the quarter finals of the World Cup at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022 [Paul Childs/Reuters]

Morocco was the World Cup feel-good story we needed

Scenes of players frolicking on the pitch with their mothers were more than enough for me


As I sat with my family watching the first half of France vs Morocco, a chant from Moroccan fans rumbled through the stadium.

“Are they saying ‘La ilaha il Allah’?” I asked my husband.

“No way – but it sure sounds like it.”

They were, in fact, repeating the first half of the Muslim declaration of faith, “There is no God but God,” and a few claps later, the second half: “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” A sort of collective rallying cry to both uplift spirits and express pride in Islam’s central creed among fellow believers.

Our scepticism clearly had not caught up with the mesmerising spectacle that was the Atlas Lions.

It was the winning streak that at least in this region, we could not look away from - the deeply satisfying underdog narrative of this World Cup, most deliciously for Arabs, Africans, the diaspora in the West, and Muslims collectively, rejoicing at an authentic representation of their lived faith and values on display in the most celebratory way.

When some of the players showed the world just how much they love their mothers, many Muslims joked that it was only due to the “mother’s ‘dua’ [prayer]” that they were still hanging on.

Others commented that their against-all-odds victories – against Belgium, Spain, Portugal – were a case of feeling more at home at the first World Cup in the Middle East, being in their neck of the woods (or the closest thing to it), and the energy of the fans, that propelled them to keep on keeping on.

No one could deny the electrifying Moroccan fandom that to an outsider seemed to pop up in Qatar overnight. And that is the thing about this story in particular - it was as much about the fans as it was about the players.

When Morocco beat Portugal during the tournament, a colleague turned to me and asked an important editorial question: “So, the first African team to make it to the semis, or the first Arab team?”

My answer did not skip a beat.

Both. All of it. And then some. Their win means whatever you want it to mean, for you.”

We decided right there and then that our coverage would not delve into the very real identity ping-pong taking place over who gets to claim Morocco.

It is not that these debates are not valid; it is that we simply chose to lean into a moment swirling in optimism and unity.

We also chose a different conversation to spotlight: the power of football as a force for social change.

I spoke to a few people who were merely supporting Morocco in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, as players and fans regularly waved the Palestinian flag. For them, the following message about Palestinians was enough: “They exist. Their struggle is real and felt beyond their homes. They will not be erased.”

It is so much bigger than football.

And the ability of the Atlas Lions to connect so many people from different backgrounds around a common desire to believe in miracles, shift the game when no one saw it coming, in a region ignored by football’s big guns (until now) - was a story worth telling, and one the world needed, however fleeting.

Soraya Salam is Manager of Al Jazeera English Online


This article first appeared on


More Articles

Why is a Western news organisation funding propaganda in India?

ANI, the world’s largest source of Indian news, receives funding from Thomson-Reuters, despite widespread condemnation for its misinformation about Muslims

Morley Musick Published on: 18 Sep, 2023
How do we determine 'newsworthiness' in the digital age?

The relentless flow of news in the digital age has re-shaped the parameters by which we decide what is 'news' and what is not

Muhammad Khamaiseh Published on: 11 Sep, 2023
‘Focus on the story, not the storyteller’ - the dilemma of a diaspora journalist

When reporting on their homelands, diaspora journalists walk a fine line between emotional connection and objective storytelling

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 4 Sep, 2023
Why does Arab media fail so badly at covering refugee issues?

Arabic media discourse on refugees and migrants frequently aligns too closely with the Western narrative, often spreading fear of migrants while emphasising the burdens of asylum

A picture of the author, Ahmad Abu Hamad
Ahmad Abu Hamad Published on: 28 Aug, 2023
What does Zimbabwe’s new ‘Patriot Bill’ mean for journalists?  

As Zimbabwe heads into elections this week, a new law dubbed the ‘Patriot Bill’ will further criminalise journalism

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 21 Aug, 2023
Verify everything: What I learned from covering the Qatar World Cup 

Last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar was not the flop so many in the Western media predicted it would be. It taught me one thing - verify everything!

Noe Zavaleta Published on: 8 Aug, 2023
How do we determine ‘newsworthiness’?

Digital media and the algorithms used by platforms to determine the news they send out to their audiences have fundamentally changed the face of news planning

Mohammed Shazly Published on: 24 Jul, 2023
What Zimbabwe’s news rooms must learn from global media closures

A flourishing media needs more than just capital and a few good ideas - it needs innovation  

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 13 Jul, 2023
Journalists beware! The silly season is upon us

With parliaments on recess and all the movers and shakers off on their holidays, journalists can find themselves scrabbling about for any old news to report. But be careful what you resort to

Ilya U Topper Published on: 3 Jul, 2023
Guatemalan media needs to talk about the consequences of corruption

The media in Guatemala has a responsibility to demonstrate how corruption affects people’s human rights

Jorge Sagastume Published on: 26 Jun, 2023
Donald Lu is dangerously wrong - India does not have a ‘free press’

The US must stop whitewashing Prime Minister Modi’s crackdown on Indian journalists

Safa Ahmed Published on: 20 Jun, 2023
Sudan shows us why Africans must tell their own conflict stories

Africa lacks freedom of expression because its stories are told by others

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 1 Jun, 2023
What happened when I asked ChatGPT to write my article

It got quite a lot right, and quite a lot very, very wrong

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 22 May, 2023
Shireen Abu Akleh’s forgotten murder

Over the past year, many in the media profession in the US have deliberately chosen to forget the assassination of their colleague

Andrew Mitrovica Published on: 11 May, 2023
The correspondent's job: Ask people, don't tell them

Should foreign correspondents and their media organisations ever take a stand on another country’s political divisions?

Ilya U Topper Published on: 8 May, 2023
Why won’t Zimbabwe’s media report truthfully on the Gold Mafia?

When it comes to government corruption, mainstream media only reports what the government tells it to - as can be seen by their response to a damning Al Jazeera documentary

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 16 Apr, 2023
A ‘culture of fear’ - the scourge of racism in UK newsrooms

Always ready to expose prejudice and hypocrisy within political and social elites, the bosses of Britain’s newsrooms have completely failed to address their own

Aidan White Published on: 9 Apr, 2023
Is the media responsible for the Auckland violence?

The media is failing to adhere to well-founded principles of journalism in its coverage of transgender issues. Violence is the result

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Mar, 2023
How do we decolonise journalism?

It is our place as journalists to lead the way in challenging oppressive social and political structures - here’s how to do it

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 14 Mar, 2023
Turkish media is trapped under the rubble

Turkey has suffered one of the gravest humanitarian disasters in its history, but still the media cannot seem to disengage from political polarisation

Yusuf Göktaş Published on: 2 Mar, 2023
Climate journalism is growing up

Environmental coverage is moving on from panic-inducing warnings about global warming to the more constructive, solutions-based approach of climate journalism

Abeer Khan Published on: 27 Feb, 2023
Why are British police arresting journalists?

UK police forces increasingly regard criticism from the media as a ‘war on policing’. Journalists are being harassed, accused of crimes and arrested as a result

Rebecca Tidy Published on: 23 Feb, 2023
Covering a natural disaster - a time for credible and useful journalism

How should journalists set about covering the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria without adding to the trauma of victims? 

Aidan White Published on: 7 Feb, 2023
When will this epidemic of dead and dying journalists come to an end?

Journalists are being targeted and killed in greater numbers than ever before. What will it take to get our leaders to act?

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 25 Jan, 2023