FRANCE’S World Cup victory is a story of the pendatang (immigrants).
The squad that defeated Croatia 4-2 in the final on Sunday is one of the most ethnically diverse national teams in the football tournament.
Seventeen of the 23 French players have roots in Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Mali, Mauritania, Martinique, Morocco, Senegal, Spain and Zaire.
Kylian Mbappe, who became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958, has a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother. Controversial midfielder Paul Pogba is of Guinean origin.
Samuel Umtiti, the defender who scored the sole goal that sent his country to the final, was born in Cameroon. Midfielder N’Golo Kante’s parents come from Mali.
Captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has Spanish roots. Forward Antoine Griezmann’s father emigrated from Germany and his mother is of Portuguese descent.
Before France’s Sunday triumph, I liked to use the French team that won World Cup 1998 as an example of how we should celebrate our diversity instead of finding it threatening.
If that French team didn’t field pendatang, I wonder if the country would have won the World Cup it hosted that year.
The 1998 World Cup winner was called “Black, Blanc, Beur,” (black, white and Arab of North African descent).
For example, Patrick Vieira was born in Senegal, Emmanuel Petit is blanc and Zinedine Zidane is the son of Algerians.
“Their victory was seen as a vindication of the idea that it was precisely thanks to its diversity and its immigrant population that France could be strong and victorious,” wrote Laurent Dubois an opinion piece titled “France’s Ghosts Return for the World Cup” published in The Atlantic on July 14.
The team won despite being in the shadow of racism.
For example, two years before World Cup 1998, the French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen attacked the national football side, claiming that several of the players were foreigners and complained that some of them didn’t sing the national anthem, La Marseillaise, before the games as they didn’t really love France.
France won the sport’s biggest prize two years later and the French were jubilant, but racism persisted in the country.
In 2016, Le Pen’s granddaughter, Marion, said French striker Karim Benzema “should go back to Algeria” after the Real Madrid player reportedly professed his love for his country of origin.
It seems the “balik China” (go back to China) or “balik India” (go back to India) racist taunts are not uniquely Malaysian.
Coincidently, while I was writing this article, my friend Steven Aroki shared a video of former US president Barack Obama on two of my WhatsApp groups.
In his speech on Tuesday in Johannesburg to mark the 100th year since Nelson Mandela’s birth, Obama gave the best shout-out to the World Cup champions as an example of how powerful diversity can be.
Obama singled out the African heritage of many players in the France team, saying embracing diversity “delivers practical benefits since it ensures that a society can draw upon the energy and skills of all ... people”.
“And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup because not all those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French, they’re French,” said the first black man to occupy the White House Oval Office.
The other two teams that made it to the semi-finals of World Cup 2018 also had pendatang. The percentage of immigrants in the England and Belgium squads is 47.8%.
“The national teams and the powerful player selection systems in the three countries (France, England and Belgium) pick the best players regardless of their origin, religion or skin colour.
“Soccer has to be meritocratic because it’s competition in its purest form, not constrained by national borders to the same degree as American sports,” wrote Leonid Bershidsky, who is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering European politics and business.
In Malaysia, some of us are too obsessed with our own race. I have to admit that I also – sometimes – see Malaysia through my Kadazandusun lenses. But I do think I’m less racist as I believe in meritocracy and diversity.
There are Malaysians who pointed out that with the appointment of Tan Sri Richard Malanjum as Chief Justice, Tommy Thomas as Attorney General and Datuk Liew Vui Keong as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office (in charge of law), the top judicial and legal positions in government are now held by non-Muslims.
Their appointments, according to these people, have caused uneasiness among Muslims in Malaysia.
I wonder if Thomas, Malanjum and Liew were great footballers picked to be in the national team, would any Malaysian be unhappy with their selection just because of their ethnicity or religion.
If there are such Malaysians, they should listen to what Griezmann, the French striker, said.
“There may be players who come from different origins, but we do have the same state of mind,” he said.
“We all play for the same jersey, the Cockerel. For our country, we give everything we have. As soon as we wear the jersey, we do everything for each other.”
Iban, Melanau Kadazandusun, Bajau, orang asli, Indian, Chinese, Bugis, Javanese or Malay, we’re all in the same team – Team Malaysia.
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