Unless you solemnly loathe football or live under a rock, the last month was a roller coaster ride to the FIFA finals, keeping even the most disbelieving of fans constantly on the edge. The entire world was glued to their television sets cheering, screaming, praying and rooting for their country, their favorite team, or their ‘second’ country (the Doosri Country, as per the official attempt of the broadcaster’s advertisements in India!). It wasn’t just a sport or an event, it was a thriller and it played like a god damn action movie, pumping up the adrenaline all throughout the month.
But football has, for centuries, been more than just a mere sport. It is a way of life for some, a way of identity for others. And for many nations, a way of displaying the collective superiority of their physical, strategic, political and cultural citizens. That is why, on the biggest stage of this sport, the stakes are immensely high and the rewards higher. When the French national football team beat Croatia in a well fought out and emotional finale, it was not just the victory of 11 players or their team celebrating in Moscow. Millions of people rejoiced across Marseille’s squares and roads, and all of France. There were whites hugging blacks, Christians kissing Muslims, and hyper-nationalists and liberal supporters, immigrants and natives embracing each other under a common flag and a common shower of fireworks. And that was the epitome of the hypocrisy of the world and the cup. FIFA
The hypocrisy lies in the fact that, though most of the European and Western nations that reached the World Cup are notoriously infamous for being unkind, unwelcoming, and xenophobic, their fans do not hesitate to shower them with praise or hail them as idols, when they win their country pride and prestige at international tournaments. Yes, the same immigrants and the same people belonging to different religions, that are otherwise hounded as subhuman by the same people, are hailed and worshiped in the game. FIFA
France and UK, and to some extent Belgium, in the past, have been the epicenter of various kinds of racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant incidents. But their footballers and the managers have shown that being ethically diverse and inclusive, has had positive results for both football and the society; which was displayed very evidently by all the four semi-finalists at the World Cup for the world to see. FIFA
Out of the 23 members of the French squad, 15 had their roots or ancestry in Africa, and 7 were Muslims. The shocking and deserving finalist, Croatia, had the greatest percentage: 15.4% of their squad members born outside their country, including top players such as Ivan Rakitic who is Swiss born, and Mateo Kovacic who grew up in Austria. The English squad that aimed to bring it all home, but instead ended up going back home in the semi-finals, was the most ethically and racially diverse squad to represent the Three Lions in a World Cup, 47.8% of its members being children of immigrants. FIFA
After Belgium introduced a national program to use football to help integrate recent immigrants and the grassroots transformation at the turn of the century, the results couldn’t have been more evident and clear. Even the Belgium’s “Golden Generation” has half its squad as immigrants. These numbers are significantly higher than the percentage of immigrants and Muslims representatives in the population of these nations, as per the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and go on to show how essential the side-lined, and perhaps, the side-tracked sections of society can do for nation building. FIFA
However, unlike the fairy tale case of success, this respect of and prioritization for integration of immigrants is a case that only comes along to celebrity footballers, with conditions of removal upon any cases of failure. The average black, the average immigrant and the average Muslim is yet to break away from the claws of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. These recent successes may have created a temporary euphoria of acceptance, but not all blacks or immigrants are super humans jumping ahead swiftly at 19 like Mbappe. Not every Muslim is as lucky as Pogba. And certainly, not everyone gets a chance to live a normal, everyday, average life, like any other usual citizen. FIFA
Let alone normalcy, even extraordinary footballers haven’t been able to get away from these monstrosities in their lives. The most recent example being that of Mesut Ozil. After a disastrous campaign at the World Cup, the German midfielder was targeted by the German media and authorities, ridiculing him for his photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Politics aside, he alleged that the smearing campaign had racist overtones and malicious intentions of making him a scapegoat. FIFA
In his statement on social media announcing his retirement from the DFB, Ozil said, “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose. This is because despite paying taxes in Germany, donating facilities to German schools and winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, I am still not accepted into society. I am treated as being ‘different’.” He also added, “…why am I German-Turkish? Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?”
Ozil seemed to raise all the right questions. His political or personal allegiance wasn’t incentive enough and that the personal attacks on his religion or family were uncalled for., something that echoes with the sentiments of millions of Muslims and immigrants around the world. The forceful need to prove allegiance to their home nation, or their nationality, is something both Muslims and immigrants have been subjected to by almost all right-wing propagandists, in our nation, the US, and all over the world. May be they took the ‘Meri doosri country’ advert rather seriously. FIFA
Before the World Cup even began, an article written for the Player’s Tribune by Romelu Lukaku had taken the footballing world by storm. “When things were going well, I was reading newspaper articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker,” he wrote, “When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.” FIFA
Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele, and N’Golo Kante even enroute their World Cup victory’s campaign, had to face racial slurs. FIFA
We could have hoped that high profile players would inspire people across the globe to be a little more accommodating, a little more tolerant. Yet, cases of blacks being tormented upon by their white neighbours or policemen, the forced separation of families of immigrants at borders, the racial discrimination and segregation of Muslims, immigrants, and other minorities, the hate speeches against their interests, keeps rising day by day, and the World chooses to switch the channel. The World Cup is over. So are its sympathies. Its hypocrisy, however, is not. FIFA
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