After weeks of suspense, France emerged the winner of the World Cup with a resounding 4-2 victory over Croatia. What is clear to anybody who watched the tournament from the beginning is that the real victory is for immigrants, specifically, black immigrants.
The French team has 15 players with African roots, including star player Kylian Mbappe, but France is hardly the only team with such diversity of ethnicity within its players. England has nine out of twenty-three players who are of Caribbean or African descent. Belgium has ten immigrant players out of its 24-member team. Portugal and Switzerland also feature a large roster of players from diverse backgrounds.
Watching the World Cup, one would think that we have reached some sort of utopic borderless world, yet Europe today is facing increasing anti-immigrant sentiments.
The French election in 2017, for example, saw far right candidate Marine Le Pen surge before being defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron. Since then, Macron pushed a controversial immigration law that streamlines asylum applications while introducing tough penalties, including detentions, for undocumented immigrants.
England is still dealing with the repercussions of its Brexit vote, as Prime Minister Theresa May deals with right wingers who are pushing a hardline exit out of the European Union.
The European Union has aggressively tried to curb immigration to their countries for years now, hoping to avoid a repeat of 2015 when hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived in Europe as they fled violence and extreme conditions in their home countries (largely in the Middle East). In a meeting in Brussels a few weeks ago, European leaders reached a deal that would toughen the asylum process, after watching Italy’s elections in which a coalition of right-wing parties won after taking a harsh stance on immigration.
“The message we hear is: Continue being very, very tough on asylum. Be tough as you can on immigration. And then get even tougher,” said a senior European Union diplomat.
Even Angela Merkel’s government in Germany nearly collapsed after welcoming nearly one million refugees in 2015, with numbers since then falling to pre-2015 levels. In 2016, as many as 62,000 people applied for aAsylum, in 2018, the number had fallen to around 15,000. Yet Merkel is moving towards establishing checks in areas that were previously free of border controls and has shifted towards deporting asylum seekers as right-wing parties win political ground by andas they exploiting anti-immigrant sentiments.
As European unity looks increasingly weak and countries adopt increasingly nativist policies, I wonder how many of the European fans watching from the stands support anti-immigrant policies and politicians while cheering on teams that are largely made up of immigrants. It reminds me of the hypocrisy around those who harbor anti-immigrant views. They love our labor, but they don’t value our lives.
The World Cup showed everyone the strength, grit, loyalty and determination that pulses through immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families. As much of a victory as the World Cup was to France, it was a larger victory for immigrants.