Blog: At Qatar, This Winner Was Not Even Playing

The football carnival has ended in Qatar. Messi’s Argentina is the FIFA 2022 champion, but the real winner at the biggest sporting show on earth is a country that wasn’t even playing. Palestine.

Such was the all-pervasive and emotional Palestine presence over the FIFA 2022 that many media commentators dubbed it the 33rd country at the World Cup.

While Palestinian flags, bands, slogans could be seen all over Qatar and at its stadiums, the biggest show of solidarity came from Team Morocco who held up a Palestinian flag in the middle of the ground as they celebrated their win over Spain. This was as powerful a political statement at the sporting arena as the Iranian team’s refusal to sing their national anthem.

During the France-Tunisia game, a fan ran across the field, dodging security, flying the Palestinian flag. The crowd went berserk.

Another powerful moment came from Tunisian and Moroccan fans who raised a huge banner reading “Free Palestine” at the 48th minute of the games against Australia and Belgium. It was to remind the world of The Nakba (catastrophe) that Palestine has suffered since 1948, when Israel was created in occupied Palestine.

When Israeli forces killed five Palestinians late last month, Arabs in the stands chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we will sacrifice for you, O Palestine.”

Then there were several videos and reports of an open and vocal boycott of the Israeli media by fans. In a widely viewed and reported incident, a Saudi soccer fan told Israeli journalist Moav Vardy, “You are not welcome here. This is Qatar. This is our country. There is only Palestine. No Israel.”

It has been quite a display of pro-Palestinian solidarity. It has, of course, much to do with the venue – a gulf state, accessible to and affordable for many Arab and North African fans. A kind of home arena for Palestine sympathisers to make their point in a grand fashion. But it has not just been fans from the Gulf states or North Africa. Many visitors from Latin America, and even Europe, openly supported and voiced the Palestinian cause.

The solidarity with Palestine on the global stage was also a resounding message by the people of the region to their rulers: “You may strike deals with Israel and normalise it, but for people, Palestine remains in their heart and always will”.

The UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan and Egypt have established diplomatic ties with Israel with the Abraham Accord. But the people of these countries have sent a resounding message to their rulers – that their hearts and minds are not with their governments on the emotional issue of Palestine.

The emotional outpouring during FIFA 2022 may not do much for the cause of Palestine on the ground, but for the world at least, it’s a reminder of a festering wound.

(Mohd Asim is a Senior Editor at NDTV 24X7)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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