The World Cup is over and this time France claimed mastery of the game. Naturally though, the big event and this big victory are not isolated from important social and political issues. As discussed in my previous blog post, in general, this World Cup has been Russia’s political statement and branding campaign. France’s World Cup win in its turn has spurred rhetoric over immigration.
Given that 16 out of the 23 championship-winning World Cup team players are from immigrant families, the French team is deservedly called the team of immigrants, and the win is considered to be the victory for immigrants everywhere. Emblematic of this notion, France celebrated the victory by projecting an image of the French forward Kylian Mbappé, who is part Cameroonian and part Algerian, on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The World Cup and French victory were spectacular… and so is the profound irony of the moment…
Just last Friday in London, president Trump claimed that immigration ”is changing the culture’ (in Europe), and that ‘it is a very negative thing for Europe.” Three days later though, on Sunday, Trump congratulated France for their victory, praising the predominantly immigrant team for their extraordinary soccer. Indeed, Trump’s ‘dilemma’ over whether to scold or praise immigrants, seems to be generally illustrative for Europe as well. Amid the spreading anti-immigrant and anti-globalization sentiments in Europe, this victory offers a contrarian view again and shows the more optimistic and positive side of diversity and integration.
It would be naive to assume that the positive emotions after the World Cup and the national admiration of its heroes will dismiss all the issues at the core of the anti-immigration mood. Indeed, the very same event was also used to support anti-immigration sentiment after Germany’s national team had to pack up and return home. Yet, there is at least one valuable lesson to be learned from this positive momentum. Mbappé and other players from immigrant families and working-class suburbs were given the opportunity, and many people—the football association and football clubs in this instance—invested into their development and integration. At large, the same logic of investing into people to achieve better outcomes seems applicable also for the migrant populations at large. Hence, people’s current sentiments and expectations. ‘Can Macron Do for the Banlieues What the Banlieues Have Done for Soccer?’, reads a recent New York Times article. I believe the essence of this question is relevant for many other global leaders too.