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

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
Has the media enabled a new age of scientific misinformation?

Social media and complex AI newsroom tools have produced a toxic environment in which dangerous misinformation is flourishing

Safina Nabi Published on: 23 Jan, 2023
‘Border jumpers’ and ‘spreaders of disease’ - how South African media incites racial hatred

The evidence that mass violence and vigilante killings have been sparked by the media in South Africa is undeniable

Danmore Chuma Published on: 16 Jan, 2023
Julian Assange is no hero among journalists

A record number of journalists are languishing in prisons around the world, yet Assange is constantly held up as a poster boy for this type of injustice. There are far more deserving candidates

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 10 Jan, 2023
Is it time to ditch the word ‘fixer’?

A large part of the work associated with foreign correspondents is actually carried out by local journalists who are rarely credited - they work in the shadows

Ana P Santos Published on: 22 Dec, 2022
In appreciation of sports journalists

The common perception of sports journalists as mere entertainment reporters is far from the full story

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 15 Dec, 2022
Sexual harassment in African newsrooms is a scourge on journalism

Well over half of women journalists in Africa have been subjected to sexual harassment, abuse or victimisation in news rooms. It’s time to crack down

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 12 Dec, 2022
Drone wars have removed our ability to report the horrors of conflict

What is the future for journalism in the ‘third drone age’? Full of manipulated news, most likely

Pauline Canham
Pauline Canham Published on: 8 Dec, 2022
America and Israel are partners in denial of justice for journalists 

Both countries have a disgraceful history of disregard for the rights of media staff who are the victims of violence, particularly in conflict zones

Aidan White Published on: 27 Nov, 2022
On Zimbabwean journalists and American democracy

A Zimbabwean journalist invited by the US embassy in Harare to ‘monitor’ the US Midterms has been labelled a ‘Western spy’ by some people at home

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 14 Nov, 2022
Why Western media makes this football fan so uneasy

Criticism of Qatar in the lead up to the World Cup was always a given. But some of the hypocrisy on display is something else

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Oct, 2022
The problem with foreign correspondents - wherever they may hail from

It’s good that the BBC recognises the value of not just sending white, British journalists to cover the internal affairs of other countries. But why send an Africa reporter to cover Pakistan?

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 25 Oct, 2022
Beware of trying to ‘cause’ the news to happen

How rumours and speculation about a refugee ‘Convoy of Light’ descending on the Greek border with Turkey were taken up by some members of the press - when it never actually happened

Ilya U Topper Published on: 13 Oct, 2022
When leaders can't take a joke, we must make fun of them all the more

The BBC’s decision to censor satire in future political panel shows at the behest of the UK’s new prime minister shows it is hardly different to any state-controlled media organisation operating under authoritarian regimes

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 7 Sep, 2022
A masterclass in propaganda - political vloggers in the Philippines

‘Independent’ political vloggers and influencers are being expertly harnessed by the new Marcos Jr administration for its own ends

Ana P Santos Published on: 22 Aug, 2022
When covering Afghanistan, what matters is the people

One year after the Taliban seized control of the country, the media must focus its attentions on the mounting humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; the people are the broken heart of this story

Soraya Salam
Soraya Salam Published on: 16 Aug, 2022
Nigeria - a model for a free African media?

Journalism under military governments in Africa is under threat, but journalists can learn from Nigerian media’s experience of standing up to people in power

Philip Obaji Jr
Philip Obaji Jr Published on: 18 Jul, 2022
Journalism needs clear standards when it comes to ‘deplatforming’ 

Currently, 'deplatforming' of people with views considered hateful is applied in a haphazard way. This just adds to the problem of hate speech

Abeer Ayyoub
Abeer Ayyoub Published on: 6 Jul, 2022
‘Fake news’ laws are killing journalists

Countries which have introduced ‘digital security’ laws in the name of combating fake news are also seeing a rise in harassment and even murders of journalists

Nina Montagu-Smith
Nina Montagu-Smith Published on: 27 Jun, 2022