WWe were sitting on a dune in the Sahara Desert, two hours drive from the nearest road. The last rays of sun touched the blown sand in which we had dug our feet. “Barca”, a dromedary driver shouted to us. He grinned an almost toothless grin and formed a zero with his index finger and thumb. “Bayern Munich,” he said, and held up three fingers in the air. Now the last rays of sunshine fell on his appreciative nod.
My friend took the chance. “Tottenham – Sporting 1-1,” he replied – the dromedary driver laughed as if he had just heard a particularly good joke. “But Ajax – Liverpool, 0: 3, too. Very good,” my friend continued. “Yes, very good,” agreed the dromedary driver with satisfaction.
Then he got up and carefully placed my water bottle on the other side of the dune. “Best moment for pictures”, he explained and did a photo shoot with us in the sunset.
Football had brought us this far. In the center of Morocco we had a chat with a hotel waiter about Hakim Ziyech, Erling Haaland and Amine Harit entertain. Then he took us out of the huge old town of Fes and fought for us with the taxi drivers for fares.
When it came to football, we travelers suddenly belonged
In the south of the country, café-goers shooed away the horde of begging cats around my friend’s table when they noticed that the tourist was watching the game on TV as closely as they were. To the north we watched another traveling schoolboy throw in crosses. They laughed at him when they were bad and asked for more when they got it. None of the surrounding dealers spoke to the tourist, even the henna painters forgot for a moment that there was a potential customer right in front of their eyes.
Was it about Soccer, we travelers were suddenly part of it – at least a little bit. We understood the cheers and motorcades because we saw the result of the Clásico on our smartphones at the same time. We had small talk, which the traders in the souks had already done in Arabic and which allowed us to reliably avoid all critical points: religion, monarchy, women’s rights. Once we tried to talk to a taxi driver in Marrakech about the weather, but he quickly fell silent. Global warming worried him. It was much too hot for this time of year, he said simply.
It is not easy to concede that to a “non-profit association” that has generated billions in profits in recent years and has only paid four percent in taxes on them. But the FIFA is right. This sport brings people together like nothing else can. Gianni Infantino’s vision of “truly global football” has long existed independently of the world association’s leaders. In the alleys behind the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, as well as on the cinder fields in the Atlas Mountains and in the jungles of Costa Rica.
Of course, the hierarchies that capitalism and the colonial era built up between us rich and all poorer countries cannot be overcome here either. But: When talking about football, watching football and playing, they become shallower than they usually are. And that is something that can be said about little else in intercultural exchange.
In the many countries of the world it would be absurd to debate whether the upcoming World Cup should be boycotted. Because human rights are violated there to a similar extent as in Qatar. That makes the discussion about migrant workers who died young and lashes for raped women all the more important for us on the one hand, and on the other hand it means: If the Germans don’t watch the World Cup, the world won’t get anywhere either. In this case, ignoring football just means not being able to use its enormous social power the next time we leave our country to discover another.