Can football teach us the value of embracing diversity?
The all European semi-finals for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia has probably been reminiscent of the UEFA European Championship (also known as Euro) for many football enthusiasts.
The sheer excellence and dominance of the European teams has, at least apparently, made many to consider this as the fall of South American football and the emergence of the European sportsmanship. But is this the case, or are there subtle factors contributing to such unprecedented success?
You might not be astonished to see Ashley Young or Dele Alli playing alongside Harry Kane as the most deserving player for the Golden Boot award. Compared to the 1966 World Cup-winning English football team which had no player of African origin in the team, the 2018 team had nine players of African or Caribbean descent. That is indeed a huge progress towards equality, but do they consider immigration as a blessing for their sports, if not for the country?
The recent remark of Romelu Lukaku, another contestant for the Golden Boot Award and a Congolese descent Belgian footballer, exposed the enshrouded presence of racism and bigotry towards immigrants. While the Belgians do not fail to celebrate a victory propelled by an amazing star like Lukaku, they do not hesitate to call him “the Belgian striker of Congolese descent” when things aren’t favourable.
Two Swiss players with Albanian ethnic heritage, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, and their captain, Stephan Lichtsteiner, were reprimanded for their controversial celebration against Serbia, which has further exposed how complex the interplay between race, immigration, and nationality is.
The current French football team is rather dominated by players with African or Caribbean ancestry -- 17 of the 23 players to be precise. In a 2016 poll conducted by YouGov, almost 50% of the French believe that “it doesn’t feel like home anymore” because of the foreigners living in France.
Cracks in the most liberal French society were witnessed during the 2017 presidential election, where one-third of the population supported the far right ultra-nationalist and anti-immigration stance of Marine Le Pen.
While France is surely taking advantage of the first generation of immigrant footballers, it has passed a controversial immigration bill to make immigration difficult.
It is quite evident that the citizens with different ethnic identity have been contributing immensely to the recent successes of European football. It has been long debated whether migration is a blessing or a curse. Although the economic benefits of migration have been repeatedly underscored by leading experts, people often consider migration as a threat to their socio-economic and cultural status.
Despite all the benefits, Europe, at large, has failed to respond responsibly to one of the worst refugee crises since the World War II. When the most persecuted needed the support of the broad-minded liberals, they were kept at bay without food and shelter under the open sky.
While thousands more await entering Europe, stern immigration policies will only destroy their last rays of hope for a better life.
The dead body of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian boy, failed to revive humanity among Europeans, but maybe football might be able to convince them about the short and long-term benefits of immigration to sustain recent successes.
After all, the World Cup is at stake! Let’s welcome more immigrants for its sake.
Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a researcher on socio-economic issues and international affairs.