Community Soccer Tournament Scores Big in Casablanca

Posted by Jane Daly
September 15, 2009
Community Soccer Tournament in Casablanca

About the Author: Jane Daly serves as the Acting Public Affairs Officer at the Dar America Information Resource Center in Casablanca, Morocco.

Despite gathering storm clouds, the final games of the Al Hofra Soccer Tournament kicked off Sunday amid cheers and good spirits. Located on the outskirts of Casablanca, Morocco, the Al Hofra neighborhood is home to some of the most underprivileged children in the Ben M’Sik district - and some of the most talented and enthusiastic soccer players.

Sponsored by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, and supported by the Idmaj Neighborhood Association, the event provided more than 150 local children the opportunity to practice their footwork. The competition was divided by age group, and at the end of the week, organizers even added more games to accommodate family members of the players who wanted to join in on the fun. The tournament concluded with an exhibition game between former professional soccer players and adults from the Al Hofra neighborhood.

The members of the Idmaj Neighborhood Association, local high school and university students, worked tirelessly to organize the schedule and to clean the soccer fields for the games. Idmaj means “integration” in Arabic, and the association works to improve living conditions and promote literacy within the Ben M’Sik district. The association will work with members of the community to clear the fields of debris every week after the tournament to promote community involvement, social responsibility, and sports as a positive outlet.

Soccer is extremely popular in Morocco, especially with urban youth. Through this and other sports diplomacy initiatives, the U.S. Department of State aims to promote cross-cultural understanding and positive activities within the most marginalized sectors of society.

With shouts of encouragement in Moroccan Arabic, the American flag-decorated soccer ball flew into the top left corner of the goal, leaving a billowing Moroccan flag and dozens of smiling faces in its wake.

Comments

Comments

Jennifer
|
District Of Columbia, USA
September 15, 2009

Jennifer in Washington, DC writes:

Sounds like a wonderful event. Great way to link the State Department with Morocco's youth. Keep up the good work, Jane!

Jack
|
New Hampshire, USA
September 18, 2009

Jack in New Hampshire writes:

Jane,

Nice work and nice photo (though, I'm not sure proper flag etiquette permits for Old Glory on a soccer ball. Something about our flag being kicked around doesn't sit quite right with me, but I digress . . . ). Sounds like a fabulous event. I'd like to hear a bit more about the follow-up. Engaging youth in the Middle East through soccer (futbol) is always a hit, but I'd like you to address one point I think bears mentioning:

How can we measure the success of this event, in Public Diplomacy terms? Yes, you had a soccer event and, presumably, the locals understood the Americans sponsored it, but how can we measure the success of the event in a results-based way? I know we can look at attendance for the event, but is the Consulate using another indicator to track success? When I worked in Iraq, the U.S. military and State Department passed out a million and one soccer balls and cleaned up just as many fields, but I wasn't ever sure if we were really making a difference in these events. They always provided great photos, but were we really countering extremism?

I'm an ardent supporter of the State Department's Public Diplomacy activities abroad -- especially in the Middle East -- but I always wonder how we can better measure our results?

I look forward to reading a response.

Best,

Jack

Jane
|
Morocco
September 26, 2009

DipNote Blogger Jane Daly writes:

Jack,

Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you touched on this issue – in fact, it is the key dilemma inherent in public diplomacy work.

You’re right – no matter how many soccer balls or trophies we donate, and no matter how many people attend the events, it is very difficult to know just how we’re affecting the hearts and minds of the populations we engage.

Of course, the State Department has many ways of polling and collecting facts and figures to understand how America is viewed abroad and how our programs are affecting our target audiences. In fact, the State Department has just completed an opinion survey in Morocco, comparing attitudes about the U.S. among those who have participated in public diplomacy programs with attitudes among a control group of non-participants. It’s a blunt instrument, but we hope it will produce useful results.

Not surprisingly, though, we can only reach a handful of the masses that are likely more influenced by CNN, Al Jazeera, and Hollywood. However, it’s worth mentioning that Moroccan TV covered this Casablanca soccer event, producing several segments on it. The camera zoomed right in on a player holding one of the Stars and Stripes soccer balls, as the voice-over talked about the support of the U.S. Consulate for the event. The viewer couldn’t miss the point, with that compelling visual, which is why we use these balls. It’s possible to imagine a setting where people would deliberately use the act of kicking around a Stars and Stripes ball to show disrespect towards the U.S., but that’s definitely not the case here.

It’s often difficult for people in other countries to separate their opinions of American foreign policy from their view of American culture and America overall. If people don’t like our policies, their negative feelings tend to extend to all aspects of American culture and society. However, in societies such as Morocco, where personal connections are so important, giving people the opportunity to interact with Americans in a positive context can make a big difference. And even though this particular soccer event only involved about 300 people (and neighbors and family members who were watching the whole thing from nearby apartment windows!), it’s worth noting that our office’s Public Diplomacy outreach programs directly reached over 15,000 young Moroccans last year.

Peer influence is, of course, one of the most important factors in shaping opinion, and no matter how great our public diplomacy programs are, it doesn’t have much of an impact if people are under enormous pressure not to say anything good about their experiences with the U.S. or with Americans. The good news is that Moroccans like and admire President Obama, and are feeling much freer to share – with us and with each other – their positive views about the U.S. We’re very glad to see our friends and supporters becoming more vocal. But, again, without a history of active public diplomacy here, we wouldn’t have those friends and supporters in the first place.

So, we in the public diplomacy world march on, planning exchange programs and sports diplomacy events, with the hopes that our efforts will have a positive impact on greater world opinion.

I hope this helps answer your question. It’s something that those in public diplomacy consider on a daily basis.

Best,
Jane

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