SOCCER: ‘Race’ for the World Cup?

THE FIFA World Cup fever is over. Thank God we can get adjusted back to our preferred (productive) routines. The fever is gradually subsiding, not the anxiety that was caused by the many unexpected outcomes. In many instances being the “best” is simply not sufficient any more. Hence, the beautiful game is truly apt as the spectators were kept at the edge of their seats each time their favourite team were out on the field.

That said, I am inclined to give the overall “winner” to the Russians. Not only because they played well, but also for playing a superb role as hosts despite the many “ifs” and “buts” thrown in much earlier by sceptics. Fortunately, it turned out to be just the opposite when World Cup 2018 was hailed as the best ever, putting considerable pressure on the next host, a non-football nation, Qatar.

The rule of thumb this time around seems to be directed to the stereotypes and the “run-of-mill” predictions that were proven wrong time and again. Those who were once recognised as champions and giants had to give way to virtually unknown “newcomers”. True to the cliché that “the ball is round” the game rolls on as beautiful as ever, taking a life of its own to the delight of millions worldwide.

In contrast, the overall “loser(s)” on the other hand are more difficult to nail but it would not be far off target if one were to suggest the (black) migrant players, regardless of the team they belonged to.

It is sad to note that all the black African teams made their exit earlier during the league. Leaving their fellow “brothers” playing dominant roles in European teams. While one cannot imagine how World Cup 2018 would turn out in their absence, it is also hard to imagine why their presence is generally not fully appreciated, if not called to question.

To quote the Belgian-born top scorer of Africa origin, Romelu Lukaku: “You always get the odd occasions when they call you Belgian of Congolese descent, when you do bad.” More generally, he reckoned any black man in Belgium who claimed not experiencing “racism” is “the biggest liar”.

But none of this would be as glaring as the case of France – the outright well-deserved champions of the FIFA World Cup for the second time since 20 years ago. This is made possible by the well-assembled team of “French” players who were made up largely of migrants and their immediate families. Indeed, 19 of the 23 players are said to be from the migrant population.

Going strictly by numbers alone, and on the insistence of being racial – the French team could arguably be an African one. Some of them are Muslims, evident enough when they performed the “spiritual prostration” (sujud) upon winning the Cup. Just as their Catholic mates did the “spiritual holy cross” as a mark of gratitude and humility.

Unlike the latter, the former are among the most misunderstood (and hated) in a country that prides itself with the slogan “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”. So much for that.

This reality can be traced back more recently to a report from the French national commission on human rights, which stated that Muslims “remain among the least accepted minorities, with the rejection often extending from Islam, to the entirety of its practitioners”. It claimed some 44% of French people believe Islam is a threat to French identity. Even prayers are considered a problem for 30% of French people who think they are “not compatible with French society”. Allegedly not a single minority achieves more than 80% “tolerance” in France today according to the report.

But that must be seen within the context as mentioned by Lukaku, that is only when “you do bad”. If you are part of the World Cup winning team for the second time it may not apply. Otherwise, it only gives credence to what Lukaku asserted as being “the biggest liar”. To whom this is directed is best left to the readers to decide.

In this context it is worth remembering that in the mid-1990s, similar issues were raised by the French themselves, namely the far-right, highlighting the number of blacks who outnumbered the white players in the national team.

But this was responded to categorically when the very diverse French team took the World Cup home for the first time in 1998. Like they say, “actions speak louder than words” and many thought a lesson was learned. But looking at what happened 20 years ago, it will take more than a beautiful game to achieve the much needed goal. Could the win this time make a difference? We will have to wait and see if that is the case.

But going by the celebratory group photographs coming out of the palace, where all the black players were relegated to the back position (intentionally or otherwise) – does not seem to suggest much have changed. We may have to wait for France to win the third World Cup in Qatar – perhaps this time sans any migrant players at all. Then it will be the real “race” for the World Cup.

With some four decades of experience in education the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: [email protected]

 Posted on 25 July 2018 – 08:10am
Last updated on 25 July 2018 – 01:30pm

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