World Cup in Russia 2018: Can immigration explain the success of France, Belgium and England?

World Cup in Russia 2018: Can immigration explain the success of France, Belgium and England?


The initial alignment of the French team against Uruguay in the 2018 Russian quarterfinals featured five players who are the children of at least one immigrant father: (back, from left to right): Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti; (ahead) Corentin Tolisso, N’Golo Kante and Kylian Mbappe.

Three of the four semi-finalists at the 2018 World Cup in Russia have more in common than the geographical proximity between their countries.

France, Belgium and England have a large number of players who are children of immigrant parents. Let’s see the numbers:

Sixteen of the squadron of 23 players from France have at least one father who was born out of the country. Two more were born on the islands of the French Caribbean, which are considered part of France.

Eleven players from Belgium and six from England are children of at least one immigrant and four other players from England have more distant Afro-Caribbean descent. One of them, Raheem Sterling, was born in Jamaica.

Mbappe and his dad arriving at the stadium for the match against Uruguay.
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Image caption Wilfred, father of Mbappe, emigrated from Cameroon to France.

That France is a multicultural team should not come as a surprise.

The French team that won the World Cup in France in 1998, the only victory of the country to date in a World Cup, was celebrated as a symbol of the success of integration into French society, to the point that it was dubbed as “The team rainbow. “

However, four years later, the same team was threatened with a boycott of players mestizos to protest the success of far – right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections in 2002 (although Le Pen was defeated easily in the second round).

In the elections of last year, the far right did it again, and Le Pen’s daughter, Marine, obtained 33.9% of the votes, although she was defeated by Emmanuel Macron.

Team of France for Russia 2018.
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Image caption 16 of the 23 players of the French team are children of immigrants.

“It ‘s famous lament of Marine Le Pen, who said that when looking at Les Bleus (the nickname of the team) did not recognize ed to France or her , ” said Afshin Molavi, School of Advanced International Studies at Johns University Hopkins from Washington.

However, this time there has been no threat of boycott, and before the semifinals, France is the favorite to raise the trophy in Russia.

The case of Belgium

The Belgium team has 11 players with at least one immigrant father, including players like Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Company, with parents of Congolese origin. Lukaku’s father played for the national team of Zaire in the 1990s.

Initial alignment of the Belgian team that played against Brazil, in the quarterfinals.
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Image caption From the initial line-up of the Belgian team that played against Brazil in the quarterfinals, five players have at least one immigrant father: (back, from left to right) Romelu Lukaku (DR Congo), Axel Witsel (Martinique), Vincent Kompany (DR Congo) and Marouane Fellaini (Morocco); (forward): Born Chadli (Morocco).

This is a very different situation from that of the Korea 2002 Japan World Cup team, when only two players who were part of the team were of non-Belgian descent.

The soccer campaign in Russia 2018 comes at a time of deep political, social and cultural division in Belgium, a country with two main regions and languages: Wallonia (French) and Flanders (Flemish).

The tension between the two groups has led to separatist tendencies and in the federal elections of 2010, the victory of the Neo-Flemish Alliance (N-VA, in Flemish) caused a political stalemate that left the country without a government for 541 days.

Therefore, a team that has players from both regions, and a Spanish coach, represents a demonstration of unity. In addition, thanks to team members playing in England, the language of Shakespeare has become the common language for all .

Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel celebrates with the crowd the victory against Japan.
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Image caption The euphoria for the Belgian team has crossed cultural and racial divisions.

“I’m not in the World Cup to talk about politics, this tournament is an opportunity to celebrate as a nation and support a team that represents the entire Belgian society,” Belgian fan Jan Aertssen told the BBC before the victory. the “Red Devils” against Brazil in Kazan.

“The people who defend separatism have not discovered how weaker the team would be,” he joked.

The Caribbean and African side of the English

The children of immigrants are well represented on the English side. The unexpected success of the squad of technical director Gareth Southgate – who has six players from at least one father who immigrated to the United Kingdom, and Raheem Sterling, who was born in Jamaica – captivates his followers.

English team in Russia 2018 before the game against Sweden.
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Image caption Of the English team that played against Sweden in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, four players are children of at least one immigrant father: (back, from left to right): Ashley Young (Jamaica) and Dele Alli (Nigeria) ; (front) Harry Kane (Ireland) and Raheem Sterling (Jamaica)

“We are a diverse and young team that represents modern England, in England, we have lost a bit of time when it comes to our modern identity , of course I will be judged by the results in football, but we have the opportunity to influence other things that are much bigger, “said Southgate.

But race relations experts advise caution. Piara Powar, founder of FARE Network, an organization that addresses issues of racism in European football, warns that teams with diverse players do not always have a lasting effect on people.

The English player Raheem Sterling in the game against Sweden.
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Image caption Raheem Sterling (left) was born in Kingston, Jamaica.

“That there is diversity in three of the four semifinalist teams is a symbolic situation, but previous experiences have shown that the positive factor lasts only a few months, even now we see a player of a racial minority in the English team, Raheem Sterling. being indicated in each game l os crític you , “Powar told the BBC.

“If England loses in the semifinals, I’m not sure if Sterling will not become a scapegoat, as happened to Mezut Ozil (player of Turkish descent) when Germany was eliminated in Russia,” adds Piara.

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