FIFA World Cup 2018: Immigrants add colour to the beautiful game

The FIFA World Cup 2018 has many teams which have plenty of immigrants and it has provided the tournament with plenty of colour, flair, diversity and some controversy as well.
Belgium have 10 players with migrant parents while 17 players in France’s squad are children of first generation migrants.(AFP)
Belgium have 10 players with migrant parents while 17 players in France’s squad are children of first generation migrants.(AFP)
Updated on Jul 07, 2018 07:59 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Germany’s World Cup 2018 campaign was a forgettable one barring that moment of brilliance from Toni Kroos when he curled the ball in the Swedish net to keep them in the fight for another day — a moment to be savoured, but not by Jimmy Durmaz.

The midfielder, born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey, was responsible for the foul that had resulted in a free-kick and ultimately Kroos’ goal. What followed was nightmare for the 29-year-old Toulouse player.

From being called ‘Arab devil’ to being labelled ‘Taliban’, the racial slurs urged the Swedes to stand in support of their teammate and start a hashtag #viarsverige (”We are Sweden”). Durmaz is not alone when it comes to players of migrant parents receiving the raw deal.

In a moving column for, Belgian star Romelu Lukaku wrote: “When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.”

These complicated anthropological details are woven into the fibre of some of the top football teams and this World Cup is abound with examples of it.

Immigrants’ Cup

The current England team has nine players of African or Caribbean descent in the squad of 23. That’s a huge departure from its 1966 World Cup winning team that had no players of African origin.

Belgium, who knocked out Brazil, have 10 players with migrant parents. According to the Washington Post, 17 players in France’s squad are children of first generation migrants. These two teams have been the more inclusive ones. France’s 1998 world Cup winning team is a prime example. It had diverse mix of white and African players with the most prominent being Zinedine Zidane of Algerian descent.

After the win, the French took pride in “black, blanc, et beur” (black, white, and a term for Arabs of North African descent). Their political leaders hailed it as a win for the country’s diversity and inclusion.

Other European nations like Portugal and Switzerland too have numerous players of similar origins. The phenomenon is not limited to European teams only. Take for example Morocco where more than half the squad was born outside the country. Nine players each from Senegal and Tunisia were also born in a different country. Among Asian teams, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran have one player each who were born abroad.

Not simple though

Mixed nationalities also come with their own set of problems. Take the example of Switzerland team which has many players from the former Yugoslavia and some from African countries. Swiss football federation general secretary Alex Miescher recently told daily newspaper Tagesanzeiger: “There should be a plan where players with several nationalities could be tied to the Swiss national team at an early stage...The events with the double eagles have shown that there is a problem.”

He was referring to the fines imposed on Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, Swiss players of Albanian and Kosovar heritage, for celebrating their goals in the 2-1 win over Serbia with a gesture which appeared to imitate the eagle displayed on Albania’s flag.

Even Germany’s Mesut Oezil — of Turkish origin — has been criticised for not singing the German national anthem before kickoffs. After Germany were knocked out of this World Cup following the loss to South Korea, some German fans at Kazan raised a banner reading: “Ozil and Gundogan, go and play for Erdogan (Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan).”

So, even as success stories of migrant sons like Zidane continue to make football truly a beautiful game, it is in its failures that the claws of racism still reveal itself.


    Abhishek Paul works with the Hindustan Times’ sports desk. He has been covering the beat since 2010 across print and digital mediums.

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