French supporters celebrate at the Arc de Triomphe after France won the 2018 World Cup during the 2018 FIFA final match between France and Croatia. EFE / EPA / IAN LANGSDON
Fans celebrate at the Arc de Triomphe after France won the 2018 World Cup in the final match against Croatia. EFE / EPA / IAN LANGSDON

World Champion: Politics and immigration undermine France's World Cup victory

France is the champion for the second time in World Cup history, but the diversity of its team has put on the table the sharp immigration debate that occupies…


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LYON, FRANCE - The French people had an intense weekend of celebrations. From early Friday, the streets were painted blue, white and red, with fireworks heard on every corner.

The anxiety for the World Cup’s final match on Sunday didn’t diminish the intensity of the revolutionary tradition of July 14, when all the French remember the storming of the Bastille and the end of the Old Regime.

But, undoubtedly, the protagonist of the weekend was the final match against Croatia on Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

Despite the heavy rain in some cities, everyone dressed in national colors, flags, and hats with the traditional French rooster, and every street echoed with people cheering, "Go les bleus!” "Allez!"

Each goal was celebrated with every fiber by whites, Latinos, Arabs... hundreds of people who came to the country fleeing the stagnation of the former colonies, violence, and lack of opportunities.

When young people painted in the nation's colors shouted "Who doesn’t jump is not French!" a multicultural circle embraced and jumped with a joy that doesn’t distinguish borders.

And no wonder, considering that the French football team (Les Bleus) is the perfect example of what it means to be a citizen of this country.

Much was discussed after the 1998 victory regarding the strong migratory component of the French national football team, especially because of the division of opinions regarding the capacity of the country to receive an insatiable number of refugees.

"France’s team is a symbol that touches many layers of society. A topic that is so important for so many people, that politics won’t let it go unnoticed," explained sociologist Albrecht Sonntag, a professor at the Higher School of Business Sciences of Angers, to Le Monde. "The symbolic overinvestment, this burden of representation of the nation by a football team, is consubstantial with football. In the case of Les Bleus, it was especially the victory in the 1998 World Cup that caused an explosion of interpretations and excessive interpretations of what they represent. (From Raymond Kopa to Zinédine Zidane), this team has become an illustration, accessible to the world, of what it means to be French."

Since the mid-1990s, the debate about the "original French" and the French coming from colonies transformed the language and the appreciation of immigration in the country, divided between those who understood the "blue, white and red" as a symbol that didn’t belong to everyone, and created the "black, white and butter" to designate the French children of immigrants who "are not so French."

This internal divisionism has worsened over the years, especially after the crisis in Syria, the terrorist attacks and the challenge of the most extreme right that advocates for the closing of borders - as could be seen in the rhetoric of presidential candidates such as Marine Le Pen.

But who would have won the World Cup if the borders had been closed?

In a country where the population born abroad represents 11.6 percent of the population (7.6 of the 65.8 million inhabitants), its victorious soccer team has 14 players of African origin (Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Angola, Algeria, and Morocco) and two are born abroad, despite the fact that 61 percent of French citizens believe that "the migration policy of the country is very lax," according to  June surveys recovered by France 24.

Also, many of these players are Muslims.

For immigration specialist Pascal Blanchard, the diversity of the French population is precisely its greatest strength: "We are in a third or fourth generation (of immigrants) that explicitly claims its cultural or religious particularities, such as its frankness. It is this generation that goes down the street and says: 'Look, it works: we can be blacks, Muslims and French, and make France win.'"


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