FIFA World Cup 2018: Why France is rooting for its multiracial football team, but 'hates' diversity off the field

Many across the world feel the same about migrants, notwithstanding their achievements.

 |  4-minute read |   11-07-2018
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The World Cup is not just about soccer — the shared glory and collective cheering as well as moaning also represent a certain national spirit and pride. That's true for most international sporting events, which often become a catalyst of national pride and identity.

But should France win this year’s World Cup, it will represent a collective victory for many nationalities — because of the team's multiracial composition, players whose origin lay outside France. Players who are children of immigrants of France's former colonies.

Following the team’s stunning journey so far in this World Cup, France is making more headlines for the multicultural face of its team than soccer. And this, despite the resistance shown to such multicultural representation from the country's far-right politicians.

But this has happened in the past too.

Deja vu

Everybody in France remembers July 12 in 1998, when an euphoric crowd of 1.5 million gathered on the Champs-Elysées and across the country to celebrate the French team’s — that was nicknamed Rainbow Team because of players of white, black and Arab descent — victory in the World Cup. It was more of a celebration of French "multiculturalism", a "national communion", people singing "La Marseillaise" (the French national anthem). Cricket fans in India can easily relate to the scene — a jubilant crowd waving the Indian national flag at India Gate celebrating India's victory in Cricket World Cup.

In the 1998 of France, the team's FIFA World Cup victory was a huge feat, considering the tense political atmosphere furthered by the then-French President Jacques Chirac.

zidane_071118071127.jpgThe 1998 World Cup win was seen as a triumph for multicultural France and Algerian-born Zinedine Zidane. [Credit: Reuters photo]

Yet two decades later, the scene is no different. Even though the French team is becoming increasingly diverse, France has had several struggles with racism both on and off the field.

If on Sunday France manages to lift the World Cup 2018, it will be a replay of the same kind of celebratory scenes, in all likelihood. Even though some believe this will send a positive message, they are also circumspect — because even the joys of 1998 were short-lived.

Like Razik Metiche, an author of Algerian background, who feels that “politicians use football as a way to put a mask on what they cannot sort out: unemployment, racism, discrimination…” Metiche was quoted by the TRT World in this article.

Then why should it be any different this time around? Especially, at a time when the entire world is infested by an unknown fear of immigrants. 

The offside politics

According to far-right veteran politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, the 90-year-old founder of the National Front, this kind of "multiracial team doesn’t fit the national identity". He is famous for his discomfort with the team over "too many black players". And his political success in the past despite his staunch views about "outsiders", including players from "foreign countries", shatters the hope that football glory could ever mitigate the causticity of racism in France.

As recently as 2016, as the race row escalated in France, his granddaughter Marion Le Pen, had said that French soccer star "Karim Benzema should go back to Algeria" after he claimed his love for his country of origin. 

football_071118072054.jpgOlivier Giroud celebrates with Samuel Umtiti (left). It was Umtiti's 51st-minute header that sent France into the World Cup final. [Credit: Reuters photo] 

Many across the world feel the same about migrants — no matter what laurels they bring for their respective countries of residence. Again, we in India, couldn't agree more. How every time something/somebody hurts our national sentiments, we want them to go to a certain enemy country. The outsider-insider is good to bring laurels to a country, but the country will always remain a stranger to him — a stranger who sets boundaries for the "compromised citizenry".

Immigrants and political football

Soccer or any other sport has never been enough to boot racism out of any society. While the diversity of a team is not necessarily a reflection of that country, strangely layered are those emotions of a shared past and joys. Talks about embracing diversity, even though well-meaning, more often than not lead to dangerous stereotyping, unfair expectations that the so-called outsiders are always under pressure to fulfil in order to belong to a majority society.  

It can't be completely denied that many cheering for the "6th African team in the World Cup", including some genuine and well-meaning liberals, are, after all, rooting for the Cup to be brought home.

Sunday's extreme emotions — the joys, tears, loud cheering, media bashing and glorification — will once again reinforce stereotypes that would further divide the beautiful game with ugly truths about a divided human race.

Also read: It's Realpolitik: Why it's erroneous to corner Jayant Sinha over garlanding Jharkhand lynching case convicts



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