France won the semifinal against Belgium thanks to the brilliant header scored by Samuel Umtiti. The defender born in Cameroon helped Les Bleus arrive to the final and eventually take the trophy home. Parallelly, the Belge side had in Romelu Lukaku, striker whose parents are from Congo, a deathly weapon. At the same time, England showed quality and efficiency not seen in years, and their team is comprised of numerous sons of immigrants.
The ironic side of it is that, precisely two weeks before the World Cup took place, the European Parliament committed to establish stronger migration controls in the Schengen zone, limiting the number of immigrants. Umtiti or Dele who made their countries tremble with pride and emotion, wouldn’t be able to enter the ‘old continent’ today.
Immigration has become the main issue in European politics in these recent years. In France, the extreme right-wing represented by Marine Le Pen was pretty close to win national elections with a hate speech against migrants. In Germany, the Minister of Interior, Horst Seehofer, threatened to renounce and destabilize the coalition that supports Angela Merkel, all because he doesn’t agree with the open and tolerant policy the Chancellor has tried to establish to face immigration and the new Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, arrived at the post making the promise of “ending the immigration business”. All these politicians have one thing in common: a racist and xenophobic speech that rejects and discriminates the immigrant who’s looking for better life conditions and opportunities arguing that they corrupt national identity.
Marine Le Pen had more than 10 million votes against Macron, winning in regions where there was high unemployment and low wages according to the New York Times.
Radically different from politics, European football clubs and national teams are comprised of multicultural individuals, who merge positively the majority of the time. Migration to Europe increased dramatically in the 20th century, thus, this demographic process is reflected in the field. Three of the four countries who played the World Cup’ semifinals are strongly diverse, ethnically speaking: Immigrants or their sons represent 78% of France’ team, 49% of England and 48% of Belgium.
While in Paris and London the goals scored by Umtiti and Dele Allí were celebrated, 57% and 56% of the English and French population thinks there are too many immigrants in their nations. In France, more than 40% of immigrants have felt discriminated at least once in their lifetime. Added to this popular feeling are the inefficient -or poorly planned- immigration policies of most European countries that fail to receive and integrate those who seek better chances in the Old Continent; so far this year, more than 1,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach European coasts.
What about other national teams?
Added to the cases of France, Belgium and England, there were other teams whose members didn’t reflect accurately the actual demographic composition of their respective countries. In Germany, for example, immigrants are 39% of the team, while they represent just 12% of the actual German population. Switzerland shows again this contradiction: 65% of the national team is comprised of immigrants or their sons, while they represent 28% of the real Swiss population.
A hint of hypocrisy can be perceived when one studies how Europeans react towards immigrants’ presence in their teams. According to Eric Cantona, former French player, when France wins, immigrants are black, Arab or white French individuals, but when France loses, they’re simply foreign scum. Three weeks ago, Jimmy Durmaz, Swiss defender with Turk ancestry, had to ask for moderation after receiving xenophobic and threatening messages for the foul he committed at minute 94 that resulted in an astonishing goal scored by Toni Kroos.
Kroos after scoring that mesmerizing freekick.
The same sensation has Romelu Lukaku, who stated that “when things go well, the press call me the Belgian striker, but when they go wrong, they call me the Belgian striker with Congolese ascendancy”. Karim Benzema is another player who complains about discrimination: “when I score with the National team, I’m French. When I don’t, I’m Arab”.
Is necessary to remember that immigration has historical causes. A great percentage of the foreign players come from old European colonies. In France, for example, 13 of the 23 players are sons of immigrants that came from French colonies in Africa; the parents of other 3 (Rafael Varane, Thomas Lemar and Presnel Kimpempe) come from actual French territories in the Caribbean Sea.
Almost a third of Belgian players are sons of immigrants from Congo, a territory that suffered genocide in the XIX century by the hands of the Belgians, whom in their greedy quest for rubber, brutally massacred 10 million people. While the vast majority of immigrants went in scarcity looking for better conditions, there’s an exception: Dele Alli, the English figure, who is the son of a Nigerian prince.
The Scramble for Africa, as it was known the colonial period that ended totally in the second half of the 20th century, left many open wounds. The plan to construct multicultural, inclusive and diverse European societies is a debt European powers have, and Football has been maybe the only oasis where this has happened.
The small utopia football represented for a little while ended at Russia, while extreme right-wing parties triumph in Europe. Curiously, Football became the ideal scenery to show the Old Continent one of their greatest contradictions.