'We're Sportsmen, Not Politicians', Morocco's Noah Sadaoui On Race In Football
The FC Goa striker grew up in post-9/11 America and believes a player deserves to represent his nation even if he is raised overseas. As long as he is good enough and loves his country.
Akshay SawaiUPDATED 15 Dec 2022 7:49 am
Like much of the world, football, too, has become browner. It can be seen in the multi-cultural make-up of once predominantly white teams such as France and Germany. It can be seen in the composition of Gulf region teams too. The squads of Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the Fifa World Cup 2022, for instance, included African origin players. (More Football News)
One representative of the global village called football is currently in action in India. Morocco’s Noah Sadaoui is a striker with FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Sadaoui, 29, was just 10 when his family migrated to the US a couple of years after 9/11. Since then, he has lived and played in the US, Israel and South Africa, among other lands.
A day before his country faced France in the World Cup semifinal, Sadaoui spoke to Outlook about how a player navigates the changing dynamics of football, race and politics.
Many national teams at the World Cup are multi-cultural. Morocco’s 26-member squad had 14 players born or raised overseas. From a player’s standpoint, who do you feel qualifies to play for the national team?
Not everyone has to be born in Morocco to play for the national team. It’s good to have players from different backgrounds and with different ideas. Obviously, that has worked for Morocco at the World Cup. If you are good enough to represent the country, you should be in the team [regardless of background].
Quintessentially European teams such as France and Germany have been a racial mix for some years now. At the same time, the present mood in many countries is unwelcoming of foreigners, or else their acceptance is conditional. Karim Benzema reportedly said that if he scored he was French, if he failed he was Arab. How does a player handle this contradiction?
It’s amazing how everything is changing now compared to back then [in terms of ethnicity of players]. It’s great to see. I haven’t been in a situation like that (Benzema’s), so I won’t be able to go into details of how it feels. But I think everybody should be respected for who they are. And should be judged by the way they play. We’re sportsmen, not politicians. It should never be about colour.
You went to the US at 10, a couple of years after 9/11. How was that experience?
It was difficult in the beginning, but not because I felt any awkwardness because of my faith. I was just 10, and had to leave behind my friends and much of my family in Morocco. Adjusting to the culture was difficult. In Morocco, everything is different than in America, even just the way you play with friends. I would feel restricted and had to act a certain way. But after I started school, got into my routine, started playing for the Metro Stars Academy, it got easier. I’m glad I went to America. After initial difficulties, it did prove to be a land of opportunity for me. I went to school, then to University and was able to make it as a pro through that system. So it will always be home for me. That experience also toughened me up and made it easier for me as an adult to adjust to different countries, to go to a new place and quickly make it home, which is something a lot of people can struggle with.
Hakim Ziyech, one of the stars of Morocco, was born in The Netherlands. Dutch great Marco van Basten said that Ziyech was “stupid” to play for Morocco when he could have played for The Netherlands. What is your response to that?
When someone is Moroccan or has Moroccan background, even though he is born in another country, his love for Morocco is big. He typically grows up with the culture of Morocco, even though he and his family are overseas. I’m sure Ziyech had the chance of playing for The Netherlands, but maybe when he comes to Morocco, he feels at home. Everyone has a different opinion about these issues. I’d definitely think most players play for their national team because of their love for the country. Maybe there are a few who choose their team based on getting a better club or having a better chance in the World Cup. But for the majority, it’s for the love of the country.
Were you tempted to play for the US or any of the other countries you played in?
I love America, but where I feel comfortable is Morocco. My home is Morocco.