Sheikha a guest of honour at Moroccan King’s desert celebration
Marrakech, 6 November, 2015 – In a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Morocco’s historic peaceful “Green March” to re-claim territory in the former Spanish Sahara, HM King Mohammed VI of Morocco invited VIPs from around the world to enjoy an exhibition football match in the Sahara Desert city of Laayoune.
The SATUC founder Princess Sheikha Al-Thani said she was “honoured” to be a guest of His Majesty on this special occasion, and praised the occasion as a “celebration of the strong patriotic spirit of the ancient Kingdom of Morocco” and “a great way to commemorate a milestone in the country’s modern history.”
Sheikha added that the presence of so many compassionate and public-spirited fellow-guests enabled her to use the occasion to enlist many of the region’s most celebrated soccer stars to join her campaign to stage a spectacular SATUC World Cup in 2017. Many of the stars accepted the chance to become SATUC Ambassadors, meaning that the next tournament has already got off to a flying start in terms of its ambition and influence.
Sheikha said: “It was a delight to be able to watch soccer greats like Diego Maradona from the vantage point of the Royal Box, and I am most grateful to His Majesty for the opportunity to visit this wonderful country.”
“The skill and determination of the boys from Morocco was one of the highlights of the 2015 SATUC Cup, so it was wonderful to get the chance to see the country and experience traditional Moroccan hospitality for myself.”
She added: “I am hopeful that the relationship between SATUC and Morocco can flourish during the 2017 SATUC World Cup and will do everything in my power to strengthen the link still further.”
“We want the whole world to know about the 2017 SATUC Cup and the benefits it will have for children, and thanks to this event in Morocco, we have recruited an amazing array of VIP advocates for our work for some of the world’s least advantaged children.”
The experienced started for Sheikha on 5 November, when she and her team flew into Marrakech Airport from London accompanied by one of SATUC’s current ambassadors Nader Sayer. The former Egyptian goalkeeper has one more than 100 caps for his country, and was twice voted best goalkeeper in the African Cup of Nations tournament.
Staying with her party at Marrakech’s famous Savoy Grand Hotel, Sheikha was received in Morocco’s fourth largest city by the country’s footballing legend Aziz Bouderbala.
Aziz, whose charisma and prestige played a strong part in ensuring the success of the 2015 World Cup event, is a staunch friend of SATUC, and he was the ideal guide to the country for Sheikha.
Having made 61 appearances for the Moroccan team and having played in the 1986 FIFA World Cup finals), Aziz’s status as a local hero opened many doors for the SATUC founder wherever she went.
When the day of the great memorial match dawned on 6 November, Sheikha was joined for breakfast by another distinguished SATUC ambassador and veteran of the Cairo SATUC Cup, the Saudi striker Saeed Al-Owairan. Saeed won an extraordinary 75 caps for the Saudi national team and his famous goal against Belgium in the 1994 World Cup was later voted the 6th best in FIFA’s Goal of the Century rankings.
Never one to miss the opportunity for high-powered networking, Sheikha, with the guidance of local hero Aziz Bouderbala, mingled in the Savoy’s lobby with luminaries including, Mustafa Hadji a former national team star who is currently the assistant manager of Morocco national team.
She also met the sports presenter Basile Boli who previously played for Auxerre and Marseilles, and Jocelyn Angloma, the French-Guadeloupean former defender, who played for Valencia and the Marseille side that won the 93 UEFA Champions league. Thanks to Sheikha’s persuasive skills, and the growing international reputation of the SATUC brand, the players were happy to be signed up to be ambassadors, receiving their certificates and information packs about the charity on the spot. The presence of the big-hearted Ivorian striker Abdoulaye Traore already a SATUC Ambassador, who could give a first-hand account of the Cairo spectacular, no doubt played a part in persuading these new comrades to sign up.
After a busy morning’s networking and meeting and greeting old friends and new, lunch was served. Sheikha and Co sustained their charm offensive over the meal, in the company of Radio Mars Resident Director General Hicham El Khlifi and Italian sports journalist and former president of the Rotary Club, Lino Bacco. Signor Bacco kindly committed himself to promoting SATUC on his radio broadcast slot, and both agreed to be ambassadors and received their certificates, as did Kamel Abou Ali the owner of the prestigious Savoy Hotel.
For a football fan like Sheikha, the Green March memorial event presented an extraordinary range of opportunities to meet with some of her heroes. After lunch she had the chance to meet with Khalilou Fadiga, the former Senegalese footballer midfielder, the Guinean superstar who played for Saint-Étienne Feindouno Pascal. There was also Abedi Pele captain of the Ghana national team, widely recognised by African critics to be the best payer to come out of Africa, George Weah, who was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players, who played for Paris Saint-Germaine, A.C. Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City. She also exchanged words with her compatriot Mohamed Aboutrika, who won the African Cup of Nations in 2006 with the Egyptian national team. All of these stars received certificates, and committed themselves to supporting Sheikha’s great cause of lighting up the lives of children who have faced lives blighted by hardship.
After all this meeting and greeting, it was time to go to the airport, where Sheikha met and posed for photos with Badr Hari the Netherlands-based giant Moroccan-Dutch super heavyweight kickboxer. From there she caught a chartered flight to the ancient city of Laayoune, the largest in the Moroccan Sahara
On touching down, the party was greeted by massive crowds, packed by the roadside and waving thousands of Moroccan flags.
No expense had been spared in preparing a lavish reception for the VIP guests, and Sheikha and fellow travellers were greeted by an array of beautiful Moroccan tents and the sound of the traditional music of the desert.
In these atmospheric surroundings, Sheikha continued her diplomatic drive to enlist as many as possible into her global mission to enlist the universal power of soccer. The stars she encountered included Daniel Bravo (Monaco, Paris Saint-Germaine), Morocco’s Mohammed Timoumi (African Footballer of the Year in 1985), Abubacar Sidiki ‘titi’ Camara (coach of the Guinean national team, which he previously captained), Nourredine Naybet (former Moroccan international football player and captain), Ahmed Faras (Who wore the captain’s armband for eight consecutive years in the 1970s), and Omar Da Fonseca the Argentine former striker. Later on Sheikha met Mutaz Abdullah, the veteran goalkeeper for Al-Shaab who previously represented the UAE national team on no fewer than 25 occasions.
At last the moment of the big exhibition match approved, and it was time for the honoured guests to take their places at Laayoune’s packed 30,000-seater Mohamed Laghdaf stadium. Sheikha sat in the Royal Box with HM The King and his other VIP guests.
And what a match it was. The Argentinian legend Diego Maradona was the star attraction, donating his time and participation for free
“El Pibe de Oro,” – The Golden Boy headed a team of American-European stars against a team of African-Arab heroes of the game for the charity event.
The African-Arab team comprised: Ghanaian Abedi Pelé, Liberian George Weah, Egyptians Ahmed Aboutrika, Nader Said and Mahmoud Al-Khatib, Cameroonian Patrice M’Boma, Saudis Sami Al-Jaber and Said Laawirane, Tunisian Jamal Limame, as well as Guineans Tita Camara and Pascal Feindouno.
As well as Diego Maradona, the American-European team included Italians Alexandro Altobelli and Francesco Toldo, Brazilians Gilberto Silva and Edmilson, Uruguayan Daniel Fonseca, as well as French stars Silvian Wiltord, Grégory Copé, Basile Boli, Daniel Bravo, and Jocelyn Angloma.
In an exciting match, Maradona scored a goal, and play was disrupted as excited crowds invaded the pitch trying to hug and get selfies.
After a day of high excitement and top-level networking, all in aid of the Moroccan King’s favourite charities, the guests were driven to the airport where and flew out of Laayoune at 1.30am back to Marrakech. This country of 33 million people had celebrated a big day in its modern history, and Sheikha had acquired more international fans, supporters and celebrity endorsements of the great cause of the 2017 SATUC World Cup.
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Notes for editors: The Green March was a strategic mass demonstration in November 1975, coordinated by the Moroccan government, to force Spain to hand over the disputed, autonomous semi-metropolitan province of Spanish Sahara to Morocco. The demonstration of some 350,000 Moroccans advanced several miles into the Western Sahara territory, escorted by nearly 20,000 Moroccan troops, and meeting very little response by the Sahrawi Polisario Front. Nevertheless, the events quickly escalated into a fully waged war between Morocco and the Polisario, the Western Sahara War, which would last for 16 years.