Many noted that members of the French football team were descendants of migrants to France. The opinions between Russia and the USA on the subject are directly opposed." />

Who qualifies as French today? Migrants and football

Many noted that members of the French football team were descendants of migrants to France. The opinions between Russia and the USA on the subject are directly opposed.

A parade on the Champs Élysées after the French football team’s victory at the 2018 World Championship in Russia. Fans greet the football players in their bus. Photo: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The French football team emerged victorious at the 2018 World Championship in Russia. However, discussions about the event have focused on more than just the scoring of goals and the quality of the games.

Especially heated were remarks made about the composition of the French football team: many of its members were not born in France. Moreover, the remarks fell across a wide spectrum of views. Some expressed disappointment at the fact that the ‘French’ football team was not made of native Frenchmen. Others spoke on how this championship was clear that cosmopolitanism has won out.

Here are two characteristic arguments from both sides of the spectrum.

The opinion from Russia: “What, this is France?”

After the victory of France at the championship, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper published an article by Darya Aslamova, which many thought to be racist.

Aslamova cited her friends from the French National Rally party (previously National Front) who allegedly told her that the French football team ‘was not French’.

“…Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, the Congo, Togo and Angola. The rest are Arabs and four whites (one of whom is a Spaniard). What, is this France? Our values are Christianity, dedication to the homeland, European traditions. What do Africans and Arabs have to do with this?” Aslamova cited one of her friends as saying.

More than half of the French football team are descendants of African migrants. However, practically all of them were born, grew up and learned to play football in France. Their native language is also French.

Moreover, Aslamova called them a part of ‘another France’ and complains that ‘the former white, French provinces have long been snatched up by migrants’ and that ‘it is much easier to meet a woman in a burka with a brood of children than a white woman‘.

The few independent Russian media outlets were outraged by her article and called it racist.

Even more decisive was the reaction of social media users. The ‘softest’ definition that Aslamova heard about herself on social media was ‘a pure-bred Arian’.

After being accused of racism, Aslamova said that ‘racism against white people is taking place in France’.

The view from the US: “The dominance of one tribe makes the world worse.”

On the same day that Aslamova’s article was published, the New Yorker published an article by writer and essayist Adam Gopnik in which he talks about the role that the descendants of migrants play on the French team and how to assess this phenomenon.

Gopnik said that the skill of the French team and its victory is a direct refutation of ideas that espouse the ‘uselessness of migrants’ and, in particular, the president of the USA, Donald Jump, and his opinion on the subject of immigration.

The author listed French players of African descent who were the best players on the team:

The best young player of the World Championship, 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé, has Algerian and Cameroonian roots;

Paul Pogba, who played excellently in the center of the field, has Guinean roots;

The parents of the best defensive midfielder in the tournament, N’Golo Kante, arrived in France from Mali.

And this is by no means a full list.

Gopnik also says that this is not the first year that the French team was comprised of descendants of immigrants. The best example is the great French player Zinedine Zidane, who was born in Algeria.

Gopnik believes that another sphere of life in which cosmopolitanism is no less important than in football is trade.

“The inability of Trump to understand the advantages of immigration which brings new energy and talents [into the country -ed] is the reason he cannot appreciate the merits of free trade,” Gopnik wrote.

“Evidently, Trump is able to understand the world only from the point of view of the dominance of one tribe or family over all others. He cannot understand why football, like all other spheres of life, becomes better when more people are able to play it.”

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