The soccer at this year’s World Cup has been tremendous fun, with the Saudis beating the powerful Argentine team in the group stage and the U.S. team playing the English to a tie before their emotionally draining win over Iran. As I write, the Moroccan team is readying for a titanic match against France, a perennial soccer powerhouse and former colonial overlord in North Africa. Both aspects—Morocco’s improbable run and its opponent in the semifinals—promise to make this game (or at least the run-up to it) one for the ages.
I do not remember politics being important in previous World Cups, but this year’s tournament in Qatar is intertwined with the country’s poor record on LGBTQ+ rights and its mistreatment of migrant workers. Palestinian rights have also been a major flash point at the games. When Morocco advanced to the quarterfinals by beating Spain, the players’ celebration on the field included hoisting the Palestinian flag. Fans have held signs that read “Free Palestine” in the stands and hung them from stadium walls. During the France-Tunisia game, a fan eluded security, running across the field while flying Palestine’s standard, much to the delight of the crowd. It has been quite a display of pro-Palestinian solidarity, and it’s no doubt been important for Palestinians to have been seen at the World Cup. But to what end?