There’s no there there anymore: Qatar, colourism and all that jazz

Saturday December 17 2022
France's forward Kylian Mbappe

France's forward Kylian Mbappe runs after the ball during the Qatar 2022 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Morocco at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on December 14, 2022. PHOTO | FRANCK FIFE | AFP


Now that the frenzy of the World Cup is behind us, we may take some time off the television screens to engage in weightier issues emanating from the very tournament we just witnessed in Qatar in a different way.

I intend to be Afrocentric, as per usual, and superficially glance at the presence of Africa in the World Cup finals looking for the significance of certain factors attending the continent’s outing.

We had five teams, making us the Cinderella continent of the competition, though it is true that our representation has been growing over the decades, seeing as there was a time there was only one African team at the finals, even a time when there was, simply, none.

Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon and Morocco put in some commendable performances, but it was Morocco that pulled off the most memorable coup, when they became the first African team ever to progress to the final four, having beaten such giants as Spain, Portugal, Brazil, England.

Fairy tales

But, even fairy tales must end, and Morocco had to bow out in the semis against France.


It is at this point that a couple of talking points emerged. Some spectators in my village were audibly supporting France simply because, they said, there was nothing African about Morocco, except that it was on the continent geographically. Rather they fancied France because it had a sizeable number of players who “looked like” Africans!

This line of thinking is very much alive, although it may not be PC to shout it from the rooftops. Put starkly, is it the colour of the skin of the player, or rather his appurtenance to a country and the appurtenance of that country to Africa that makes a player African?

French team

Does the French team therefore become African just for being heavily black, even when it is la Marseillaise that is played for them before kick-off?

Refusing to accept the Moroccan players as Africans because they are not “black enough” and accepting black French players as African because they have a skin colour close to ours seems crude to me as a form of extreme “colourism” that would make an African of Antonio Rudiger when he decided long ago he was German.

We have to respect people’s choices, don’t we?

One will have noticed that Die Mannschaft is becoming darker with every tournament, and it may not be long before they rival France in the number of African descended players. Even Spain had the courage to pull a couple of African rabbits out of its hat when things got tough in Qatar.

North African countries

But, on a slightly related issue, we may also incline to wonder why North African countries – which have sizeable black populations – can hardly show a black face among its players.

Is there any racially constructed historical reality that has kept the darker-skinned Berbers and Tuaregs away from sporting visibility?

And, does this invisibility ramify into other areas of national endeavour such as commerce, economic production and governance?

These are pertinent questions we should be asking ourselves, not only on the continent but also elsewhere.

I have touched on Rudiger the German and could have talked of many others we saw in Qatar: How English can Bukayo Saka be, seriously speaking? Or Raheem Sterling?

Famous phrase

Never mind these rhetorical questions but, watching a couple of the Qatar matches, I could not resist going back to that famous phrase about “there being no there there anymore.”

In a world where an Indian can be the prime minister of the United Kingdom after a Kenyan has been president of the United States and remains popular even after a rabidly bigoted White supremacist president had done his damnedest to erase his legacy, there is surely no there there anymore.

The whole picture gives a sense of direction in which this thing is going: We are going to see more and more dark-skinned players in future tournaments.


Black players are to be found all over the place in Europe and North America and Asia. They will soon overrun the other races, in football as in many other pursuits, because Africans have started from a very low level and they are anxious to cover as much ground as they can in as short a time as possible.

They are, of course, goaded by the most pressing imperatives to perform in sports because they have little else to achieve. Their countries are a shamble, politically and economically.

Too many young people have given up waiting for their rulers to take measures that will guarantee jobs and a life of dignity.

Football may be one of the very last remaining escape routes from poverty, deprivation and hopelessness.

Viva o jogo bonito!

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]