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Morocco’s fabulous football year – what’s behind their success on and off the field

In 2022 Morocco became the first African and Arab national football team to reach a Fifa World Cup men’s semi-final; and Wydad AC won the Africa Champions League. The good news continued in 2023 with the women’s team making history by reaching the final 16 at the World Cup and the news that Morocco will host the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament and co-host the 2030 men’s World Cup. Mahfoud Amara is an Arab world sport specialist. We asked him what’s behind Morocco’s success.

How has the country developed its national teams?

Football, one could argue, has been part of the fabric of Moroccan nationhood since independence in 1956. It has consistently held a prominent place on the agenda of the authorities, overseen by the Royal Institution or Makhzen. (Morocco has a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. The king holds significant powers, while political parties play a role in governance.)

In particular, the late King Hassan II was a devoted sportsman who recognised the importance of integrating sports into the nation-state-building process. This benefits various strategic sectors, most notably tourism. The current king, Mohammed VI, has continued this strategy, including bidding to host major football tournaments. This has led to the construction of sports facilities that meet international standards.

Of course, Morocco’s strategy of incorporating sports into its developmental agenda puts the country in direct competition with other north African nations. For example, Morocco competes with Tunisia, where tourism is also a priority. Both nations have invested heavily in sports tourism and the hospitality sector. Egypt is another regional rival both on the field and off. These rivalries see both the authorities and the public rallying around the national football team with an enthusiasm that extends to the Moroccan diaspora.

Concerning women’s football, Morocco has showcased its commitment to gender equality in sports, especially through notable successes in track and field and more recently in football. A women’s football league was established in 2001. A competitive women’s national team has emerged with an improving international ranking. The country hosted the Africa Cup of Nations for women’s football in 2022. All this has contributed to Morocco’s suitability as a co-host for the 2030 Fifa World Cup.

What’s behind the successful Afcon 2025 hosting bid?

Political commitment and increased capacity to host top games have already been mentioned. The country is also reaping the benefits of international football success. Strong performances on the global stage have elevated Morocco’s football reputation internationally.

Another factor is the country’s growing influence in football governance. Morocco has strategically positioned itself in African and international football governance, with influential figures such as Fouzi Lekjaa holding key positions in organisations like the Confederation of African Football and global football body Fifa.

However, the hosting of Afcon in 2025 comes with challenges in the aftermath of an earthquake. The country will have to spend significant resources on rebuilding the areas affected.

Hosting Afcon and the World Cup, despite the financial commitment, serves as an opportunity to mobilise various sectors and accelerate development programmes, especially (and hopefully) in areas directly affected by the earthquake.

What role does club football play?

Morocco’s domestic league, Botola (currently Botola Pro 1 Inwi), is considered one of the most dynamic football leagues in Africa and the Arab World. Clubs such as Wydad and Raja in Casablanca are legendary and their annual derby match captivates the entire nation. The league’s strength lies in its representation of major regions and cities in Morocco, fostering a robust local fan base. Moroccan football was an early adopter of professionalism in African football, making it attractive to African players aspiring to launch professional careers in Europe.

This explains why Morocco ranks so highly among African clubs. However, a challenge lies in maintaining a balance between local players (those who play in Morocco) and professional players (who have secured contracts in Europe or were raised there). This delicate balance requires careful management as it can sometimes lead to instability.

How does Morocco generate revenue from football?

Professional football league revenue comes from sponsorship deals, naming rights agreements, TV broadcasting contracts, gate receipts and merchandise sales.

Hosting major international sports events offers nations an opportunity to generate revenue from visiting fans. Morocco capitalises on the vibrant atmosphere of these events, leading to increased consumption in various sectors – retail, hospitality, leisure, food… Moreover, job growth is stimulated.

Of course, infrastructure is expensive. Most of Morocco’s football stadiums are ready for Afcon 2025. Potential refurbishments and upgrades are planned for the 2030 World Cup. Co-hosting the World Cup spreads the financial burden among Morocco, Spain and Portugal, reducing individual financial risk.

Morocco’s strategic location and modern transport infrastructure make travel to and within the country manageable and appealing for football fans and visitors. The upcoming World Cup presents a golden opportunity for both national and international companies operating in Morocco to engage in branding and endorsements of the national team and individual players. This allows them to access domestic consumers as well as the sizeable Moroccan diaspora in Europe.

Despite setbacks like the earthquake and considering the current turmoil in the region due to the war between Israel and Hamas, both Afcon and the World Cup will serve as significant occasions to unify Moroccans from diverse backgrounds in celebration of a rich football heritage. These events also provide north African football enthusiasts with a unique opportunity to fully immerse themselves in African and global football experiences.

Source: The Conversation

About the author

Zaky ibn Mohammed

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