Editorial: A unifying force

The fanfare accompanying the win echoed everywhere – from Buenos Aires to Ballygunge.
Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe

The final of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar on Sunday night was a sporting extravaganza that had magically united the world in football frenzy. The match, rife with heart-stopping moments, hair-trigger penalties and jubilation for the winners was a wonderful representation of the power of sports to bring people together.

The fanfare accompanying the win echoed everywhere – from Buenos Aires to Ballygunge. While the tribalistic devotion of fans to certain ‘star’ football nations was on full display, what was also evident was the multi-ethnic composition of teams.

A topic of discourse that emerged in the aftermath of the World Cup is regarding the ethnicities of the players in the tournament.

France, which has prided itself in being a multicultural nation for decades together, had shone thanks to the inclusion of greats like Michel Platini (of Italian origin), Zinedine Zidane (Algeria) and Raymond Copa (Poland). Currently, the nation boasts of a line up of talents, a majority of whom are of African or Arab descent.

Star of the season Kylian Mbappe has both Algerian and Cameroonian roots. Similarly, Youssouf Fofana has Malian roots while Eduardo Camavinga was born in a refugee camp to Congolese parents and moved to France when he was two.

A similar story played out in the Moroccan national team, where 14 of the nation’s 26-strong contingent were born outside Morocco, either in European nations or Canada. Morocco’s manager Walid Regragui, who was born in France went on record to say Morocco’s dream run was proof that foreign born players can help lift the national team to new levels of success.

In some quarters, divisive rhetoric regarding how France was banking on its players of African descent to score a victory had gained prominence. If one recalls, this was something witnessed even in 2018 when France had won the World cup.

Back then, an American stand-up comedian Trevor Noah had ruffled feathers with his comments on the French team, when he said that one doesn’t get that kind of tan by hanging out in the south of France.

While people lambasted Noah for his limited understanding of French multiculturalism, the political scenario transpiring in the European Union does not belie the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that is now assuming dangerous proportions in the bloc.

Marine Le Pen, a far-right politician who ran for French presidency in 2012, 2017 and 2022 is known for her extreme viewpoints regarding immigration as well as multiculturalism.

Similarly, Giorgia Meloni, the recently elected Italian Prime Minister, had been called out on numerous occasions on account of Islamophobic and xenophobic statements. She has also pinned the blame of the migrant crisis in Europe on its neocolonialist policies.

While it might be argued that such developments of a political nature have nothing to do with sports, it’s essential to remember that some of the most developed nations owe their success to the inflow of immigrants.

At a time when the world is growing smaller, thanks to globalisation and the criss-crossing of citizens across borders, it seems foolhardy to pursue a line of thought that relies on differentiating people based on their ethnicities.

At the end of the day, this version of the beautiful game, which takes place once every four years, is a reason to root for champs, newbies, underdogs and everyone in between. It’s essential that the sport remains just that, and it is not muddled by the myopia of those with divisive ideologies.

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