The down cast feeling of this World Cup for Moroccans has much to do with circumstances beyond the pitch. Political and economic difficulties back home have cast a pall on the campaign of a national team that mainly comprises players drawn from the Moroccan diaspora in Europe. Since October , political unrest has shaken northern parts of the kingdom, with protesters demanding more jobs and less corruption.
The Moroccan authorities met these demonstrations with repression and mass jailings. Citizen groups recently organized an economic boycott of gas, milk, and water companies in an effort to force them to lower their prices. Popular resentment is palpable.
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But many of us Moroccans were relieved at the news of this loss since it prevented what would surely have been an economic catastrophe for this nation of 35 million that suffers from endemic unemployment and poverty. Of the twenty-three players who represented us in Russia, seventeen were born outside Morocco. Soccer is hugely popular in the working-class, immigrant-dominated neighborhoods on the peripheries of European capitals where many Moroccans live—and from where many talented football players have emerged. Moroccan stars emerged on the field, rallying the country behind a strong sense of patriotic pride.
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Through the s, sportsmen and sportswomen representing Morocco won gold medals in Olympic games, competed in international tennis tournaments, and qualified for top soccer championships. But that has changed.
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Efforts to produce winning teams have often prioritized recruiting Moroccans from the diaspora over supporting sports at home. Many people back home today shared the sentiments of fans like Amine Lahbabi, who lives in Casablanca. Some were students, others had a day job at the bank, they felt accessible. Now, with globalization, much of this has changed. Boys and young men, often dressed in knock-off jerseys of their favorite players, play soccer in the streets or on the beach.
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