Football World Cup 2022: what diplomatic fallout for Morocco?

What did Morocco’s excellent results at the last World Cup in Qatar bring in terms of diplomacy? The opinion of Michel Raspaud, university professor.

Their excellent results and the access of the Atlas Lions to semi-finals of the last World Cup in Qatar, in December, were followed by the Moroccan population in the country but also by the entire diaspora (in particular in France where among the immigrant population, the Moroccan contingent is the largest), as well as by the whole of Africa and the Arab world.

The quality of the game displayed by the team under the guidance of its coachWalid Regraguias well as the dynamism, enthusiasm and mentality players won over all the spectators, television viewers and observers.

Besides, thedelirious welcome offered by the Moroccan population to the entire delegation on their return to the country shows the degree of pleasure and happiness given to them. But, from such a career in the most prestigious competition of the most popular sport in the world, what can the Moroccan authorities draw from it diplomatically?

According to British diplomat Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929), diplomacy is

the application of intelligence and tact to the conduct of official relations between the governments of independent states, or the conduct of business between states by peaceful means.

Use of soft power

More recently, the former US Undersecretary of Defense, Joseph Nye (2004), opposes hard power to soft power which is the ability to get what a state wants through attractiveness rather than coercion or payments. This happens through the attraction of a country’s culture, its political ideals and the political actions developed.

When political actions are perceived as legitimate by others, soft power increases. From this point of view, sport – and the example of Qatar highlights this – has become a tool of soft power in diplomatic relations between States. As the highlighted geopolitician Pascal Boniface, “sport makes power sympathetic and popular. The display of military power is frightening, it can provoke rejection. Not the victory of a sportsman”.

It is obvious that the Moroccan authorities will capitalize on this remarkable course of the Atlas Lions.

For his part, the former American diplomat Hans N. Tuch (1990) specified that public diplomacy constitutes the “process of communication of a government with a foreign public aimed at a good understanding, not only of national ideas and ideals, but also of institutions, culture, national interests or even current policy”.

This form was developed in the 1960s in the United States during the Cold War era. It was specified as being a “state communication process with foreign public opinion”.

The objective is simple and clear at the same time:

impact foreign political elites by influencing public opinion. This is therefore a limited circle of premeditated activities, motivated by the effort of the State with the aim of making its interests prevail in the framework of international relations.

The main goal of public diplomacy is to build a reputation. However, each country has, depending on its history, its size or its diplomatic potential, its own need to present itself and uses different strategies to do so.

‘Football diplomacy’

One of them refers to the concept of sports diplomacy, which refers to the strategic use of sport to achieve objectives in the field of external relations. It aims in particular to make a country, its people and its culture more attractive to third countries by maintaining links between populations through citizens’ initiatives. It mobilizes a wider range of actors than diplomats and politicians, including amateur and professional athletes, sports organizations and civil society actors.

As specified Moncef El Yazghisports policy researcher, on Morocco:

More than sports diplomacy, I think we have to talk about football diplomacy, because all the efforts are concentrated on this discipline.

There is a model of football development inspired by France, set up by the king a decade ago, which is bearing fruit. This model which is Mohamed VI Academy is copied from what was done with the Clairefontaine National Football Center. It relies on numerous trainers and constitutes the training project the best structured in Africa, with facilities in terms of very high quality infrastructure.

International Leadership

Since the coming to power of the new president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, Fouzi Lekjaafootball has been defined as a lever of influence and lobbying to ensure its African and international leadership.

Morocco has thus expressed its interest in hosting the World Cup. After four failures (in 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010), his candidacy for 2026 was not retained by FIFA in the face of the joint United States-Canada-Mexico project. It has forged partnerships with many African federations, mainly sub-Saharan (44 in number in 2021) and hosted on its territory the matches of federations whose stadiums are not approved.

Morocco has also supported the construction of sports infrastructure, the training of executives, the hosting of internships for national selections, the training of referees and the organization of friendly matches.

Thus, according to a leader of a West African federation, “Morocco wants to be the leader of African football and it is not far from it. He has become a key player. Its policy of diplomacy has a cost, but it is also an investment. Moroccans know very well what they are doing. “. Thus, for 2022, the sports budget was 2.1322 billion dirhams (i.e. €203 million), i.e. 0.41% of the finance bill of the Kingdom for the same year, which is twice that of France.

Faouzi Lekjaa, who sits on the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football as well as to the council of the Fifa is, like the precise Moncef El Yazghi, also “the director of the state budget and he has the king’s confidence to carry out this project”.

This global effort also involves the organization of the finals of the CAF Cup (Rabat, 2020) and the Champions League (Casablanca, 2021 and 2022), but also the reception in Tangier of the French Champions Trophy in 2017 or the Spanish Supercup in 2018. Without neglecting the fact that Moroccan clubs are now holding out on the Egyptian greats (Al Ahly or Zamalek), Raja winning the CAF Cup 2018 and 2021) as well as RS Berkane (2020 and 2022), Wydad winning the Champions League twice (2017 and 2022).

In conclusion, let’s go back to what said the sports geopolitician Jean-Baptiste Guegan :

Football matches also allow populations and other States to stage diplomatic relations. They send political messages. Football matches have an unparalleled media potential, which gives them the means to mobilize the masses, to energize societies. It creates media activity and above all it allows messages of rapprochement to be passed on.

This is what Morocco is doing with football.The Conversation

Michel RaspaudUniversity Professor, Grenoble Alpes University (UGA)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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Football World Cup 2022: what diplomatic fallout for Morocco?

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