World Cup 2018: The French national team is living the ultimate African fantasy

Les Bleus have become the symbol of Pan-African unity

In a world where immigrants are held in detention camps around the world, the World Cup Finals in Russia provides an interesting insight to the immigration laws of the countries that participate in the global sporting event. Football’s governing body, FIFA, allows players of different nationalities play for any country they have a clear connection to and this year’s World Cup saw a total of 82 players, playing for countries that they weren’t born in. France stands out in particular with 15 of the 23-man squad they fielded being immigrants, and 21 more, playing for other countries. Making a total of 50 French-born players who participated in this year’s competition alone.

In line with recent events from around the world, it’s no surprise that after defeating Croatia 4-2 to win the competition, the headlines were largely political. Some have called it a win for Africans and immigrants around the world.

Global Migration to France became intense in the 20th century, after the second world war ended and France found that they lacked the labor force needed to rebuild the economy. The government opened its borders to immigrants from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa, seeking job opportunities. One of the major reasons people rushed at France’s opportunity was to flee from wars in their home countries, but others in less urgent situations moved too. What they were looking for was greener pastures, a fantasy ideal life they had been unable to achieve in their home countries. And clearly, this search still holds till date.

Historically, humans have moved from space to space in search of better. French President Macron pointed this out during his speech at his special appearance at the Tony Elumelu young entrepreneurs conference; people migrate in search of what they perceive is their ideal life. What has evolved, however, is the reasons we move. Our reasons have gone from natural survival to self fulfillment, manifesting in different ways and often determining where we go. Unfortunately, the people we confide these fantasies can sometimes manipulate these dreams for their selfish benefits—traffickers are the example Macron emphasis in his speech.

Human trafficking and smuggling have become intertwined with the idea of an immigrants, but that perception often skewers the human element of another person trying to find better opportunities. Many migrants have debunked this premise with their achievements, but we still live in a time where tensions often arise due to ethnic differences. After winning the World Cup with a team of immigrant players, France’s broad ethnicity shows the prejudice isn’t justifiable.

While France’s World Cup success has been attributed to the close-knitted diversity in the team, France isn’t quite free of racism. Their national colors, (Blue, White and Red) celebrates their diverse community (black, white and Arab), but occasionally, reports of racist incidents have sparked crisis in the nation. Former coach, Laurent Blanc for instance, was forced to resign after his statement insinuating that black players are physically superior but mentally inferior.

Notwithstanding, talents from immigrant families continued to dominate the French national team, with most of them coming from areas called ‘Banlieues’; A French word that literally means “Suburb”. These ghetto areas have high levels of unemployment and poverty, but are also the world’s number one talent pool for soccer players with the combination of established academy systems and France’s unique immigration system.

Sixteen of the 23 Les Bleus players are from immigrant families from Morocco, Zaire, Algeria, Cameroon, Congo Nigerian, and Angola. Thomas Lemar is of Nigerian and Guadeloupean decent, Samuel Umtiti was born in Cameroon, while Steve Mandanda was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. N’Golo Kante’s parent’s are from Mali, Paul Pogba’s parents are from Guinea, Blaise Matuidi’s parents are from Angola. Nabil Fekir’s parents are from Algeria, Ousmane Dembele’s mother is of Mauritanian and Senegalese descent. Presnel Kimpembe and Steven Nzonzi’s fathers are Congolese. Corentin Tolisso’s dad is from Togo. The young talent, Mbappe, is half Cameroonian and half Algerian, while the leading scorer of the squad, Antoine Griezmann, is half German and half Portuguese.

Naturally, the team was treated like the 6th African team in Russia. The French players also reciprocated this support by playing African music in the videos shared during the competition along with a memorable ‘Shaku Shaku’ celebration after scoring in one of the group stage matches. Their joy and celebration of each other’s differences and the complexity of identity is infectious. They exude love and togetherness with their team of Black, White, Arab, Christian and Muslim players.

Watching them jumping around and hugging after coming together to achieve a shared dream, is an ideal for what our greater world should be. If you ask the average African man on the streets what his ultimate fantasy is, it’s somewhere between having enough money to take care of his family and going abroad for greener pastures. In our individual journeys, the search for happiness can lead to bleak places like trying to cross the Mediterranean in unsafe conditions to escape a difficult reality. If it’s any consolation, perhaps we could celebrate those who seem to have found those greener pastures after all.

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/brfootball

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