Even if you don’t typically watch soccer, you’ve got to admit that there’s something extra spicy about the World Cup — namely, the fact that far-flung countries, sometimes ones that have deep historical and political beef with one another, are squaring up on a field and battling it out over a ball.
For many, the World Cup is just about watching a fun sport to day-drink to — or good old nationalism. But for others, myself included, it runs a little deeper than that. For citizens and descendants of formerly colonized countries, the stakes can feel even higher when their teams play those of the countries that colonized them. Sometimes, the stars align and you get suspenseful matches like Tunisia versus France, in which Tunisia unexpectedly beat their generally more favored opponent.
Let’s be real: Some World Cup wins feel like the sweet, sweet revenge that we, as the colonized, never got. Is it petty? Absolutely. But it’s also delicious. And there’s a slew of tweets from people who participate in the schadenfreude that comes with declaring victory over a country that has historically screwed over yours.
Perhaps one of the most perfect examples of this “colonial revenge fantasy” occurred this past Tuesday, when Morocco beat Spain during the penalties. What was even more perfect was that Morocco’s winning goal was scored by Achraf Hakimi, who was born in Madrid to working-class immigrant parents. Historically, Morocco and Spain, which neighbor each other, have had a tense relationship, which has only become more tense due to increasing migration from Morocco. This summer, several Moroccans died trying to cross over to Spain, and conservative politicians from the European country have readily stoked Islamophobic and racist fears against their southern neighbors.
These tensions are one of the many reasons that so many rejoiced after Morocco’s win, which is also the first Arab country in this World Cup to make it to the next round. Some of the players held up a Palestinian flag, which some took as a broad condemnation of Western colonialism in the Arab world.
These cathartic feelings over a country beating a bully of sorts in a sporting event actually serve a higher purpose. One of the original goals of the Olympics was to promote world peace and to substitute war with sporting events (although how successful they’ve been at achieving that is, of course, up for debate). Also, watching sports can serve as an outlet for strong emotions, including aggression, which is probably why some scholars believe that sports could serve a similar function as war without all the bloodshed.
If Morocco beating Spain in a soccer match alleviates some justified resentment from Moroccans, there’s no real harm done. In fact, maybe what we need to avoid the next World War is to see more colonial powers fall flat on their faces during this World Cup. I’ll be there with my popcorn, enjoying every second of it.