World Cup success warms Yellowknife winter for Moroccans
When Qatar moved soccer’s World Cup from the summer to November and December, the aim was to beat the Gulf emirate’s crushing July heat.
In Yellowknife, the shift has had a different effect. For the NWT capital’s small Moroccan community, suddenly – with their team in the semi-finals – winter isn’t so cold any more.
Morocco dumped Portugal out of the World Cup on Saturday and will now play France in Wednesday’s semi-final.
At a Yellowknife Tim Hortons on Saturday, Lahoucine Berdouz celebrated victory over Portugal with Hamza El Gahalnei and Said Sahlahi.
“If we win the World Cup, we’ll go outside to City Hall,” El Gahalnei said.
“Minus 40 will feel like plus two,” quipped Berdouz.
The first African nation ever to reach this stage of the tournament, the Moroccans are two wins away from becoming the world champions.
“Can you believe that?” said Sahlahi. “Everybody is watching the news and all the people are talking about this.”
The team is now the tournament underdog by a distance, with defending champions France, storied soccer nation Argentina and 2018’s losing finalists Croatia the three other remaining contenders. But any Moroccan you speak to is convinced anything is now possible.
Inside the stadium on Saturday, the level of support for Morocco was readily apparent: cheers and roars of enthusiasm for every Moroccan touch, and deafening whistles every time Portugal had the ball.
“Right now, we’re getting all of Africa, other countries all over the world supporting us. It’s incredible,” said Berdouz.
‘We create a show’
That makes this a great time for Yellowknife’s Moroccan community to be thriving.
El Gahalnei arrived in the city in September, completely unaware that there even was such a thing as a Moroccan community in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
“I was in Walmart and I heard some guys talking Arabic. There are Moroccans here! I don’t believe there are Moroccans here,” he recalls thinking.
One of the voices he overheard belonged to Younes Oudghough, who for a decade has been Yellowknife’s most prominent Moroccan voice, particularly any time there’s a World Cup to watch.
“If you ask Younes, he came here in 2011 and he was the one Moroccan in town,” said Berdouz.
“The Moroccan community here is getting bigger year after year. I came here in 2019. We have eight or nine families here now.
“It’s a good moment to be with friends. We’ve broken the distance between here and Morocco, we don’t feel like we’re in another country. We create a show as in Morocco: we start singing our songs, we have the shirts and the flags.”
The semi-final against France is scheduled for 12pm MT on Wednesday, ordinarily an awkward time to score two hours or more in front of a television.
Berdouz, though, already has the day off, and El Gahalnei is confident he’ll get to watch the game.
“My boss is Moroccan,” he said, smiling.