The success of a nation in football World Cups has, forever, united its citizens – regardless of their social, economic, and political backgrounds. After a thrilling victory in the finals over Croatia, France managed to bring football’s most coveted trophy back on French soil after 20 years. The team consisted of talented footballers who played sublime football to defeat the likes of Belgium, Argentina, and Uruguay en-route to the final. By winning the World Cup, it’s this diverse group of multicultural players that has captured the heart and soul of the entire nation. As several European nations display bouts of nationalism and xenophobia in the face of endless immigration, France’s victory hopes to showcase the virtues of diversity and acceptance in order to achieve peace and harmony.
In fact, 19 out of the 23 players in the French team constitutes migrants or 1st generation citizens. Most of them emigrated from Africa and a few from other parts of Europe. A few of those players, including Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté, are also devout Muslims who indulge in regular prayers. In a country where Muslims face more discrimination than African-Americans do in the United States, the critical role that these talented footballers played in winning the trophy is bound to hit the nail hard on the heads of French Islamophobes.
After the victory, chants of ‘Liberté, egalité, Mbappé!’ was heard in most corners of the French capital, Paris. A play on the French motto ‘Liberté, egalité, fraternité’, which stands for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the message exemplified the nation’s love towards Kylian Mbappé, the son of an Algerian mother and Cameroonian father. Mbappé, who grew up in an immigrant suburb (called ‘banlieuse’ in French) near Paris, was instrumental in the nation’s world cup success – winning the youngest player award in the process. He has also decided to donate his World Cup bonus fee to a charity organization which helps children with disabilities play sport.
Currently, around 10% of France’s population constitutes immigrants, as a result of its post-World War II policies which enforced the country to bring in laborers from its African and European colonies to rebuild the nation. Although France prides itself on being a multicultural country, bouts of racism and xenophobia still exist in pockets around the country. This has been depicted in the 2017 French elections, where the right-wing Front National (FN) party garnered more than 20% of votes. The FN party leader, Marine Le Pen, maintains an anti-immigration rhetoric and has denounced the influx of refugees from war-stricken countries like Syria. France has also witnessed several terror attacks since 2015 that have claimed more than 250 lives, contributing to the ongoing rhetoric against Islam.
The French President, Emmanuel Macron, has shown an incredible amount of optimism regarding the positive impact of France’s world cup win on the nation. He has urged the nation’s biggest companies to hire talent from banlieuses, where many of the immigrants in the national team grew up. He also hopes the victory would eliminate feelings of hatred, pessimism, and racism and bring the nation together in unity.
After ‘Les Bleus’ won the 1998 World Cup, chants of “black, blanc, beur” (black, white, Arab) reverberated across the streets of Paris. This was a recognition of the ethnic players that constituted the team at that time. Sadly, Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen couldn’t help but attack the 1998 winning team of having “too many foreigners”. The 2018 winning team shows much larger diversity than their predecessor and has the potential to win further tournaments. Only time will tell if Marine Le Pen and her right-wing followers finally understand the importance of immigration and its role in developing a multicultural team that unifies the nation through football glory.