Whereas France just won it second world cup, commentaries surrounding this victory has been made all over the world. The main observation behind these commentaries is linked to the diversity of the French national team.
Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, described the team as a team made of African players and children of African immigrants. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra for its part, in a very weak analysis, estimated that this team is “full of African Champions mixed with a few good white players.” While in South Africa to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday, former president Barack Obama took the position to celebrate the diversity of the French national team and insisted on the fact that whatever the origins of the players are, they are all obviously French.
The different comments and conflicting opinions illustrate the difficulty that lies in defining an individual only by his or her nationality. By always seeking to classify human beings with the same type of simplicity that we do for an object, we fail to take into consideration the complexity of each individual’s background. By refusing to see this complexity, we open the door to the racist comments coming from newspapers like Corrierre della Serra, for example.
Nonetheless we have to add that the remarks made by the French ambassador in the United States, Gérard Araud, in response to Trevor Noah’s monologue on the topic are likewise absurd because Araud does not acknowledge the African origins of the vast majority of the French national team’s players. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/french-american-identity-politics-world-cup-trevor-noah/565637/
Araud’s comments are absurd because by insisting only on the Frenchness of the players, with the argument that they were born and raised in France, the ambassador refuses to see the contributions that history and the influences that other cultures have had on their lives.
The fact to be born and raised in France does not necessarily lead to a conclusion that one is exclusively French. Yes Mister Ambassador, all of these players are French but not ONLY French. And all of the nonsense debates focusing more on the player’s origins rather than their beautiful achievement together originate from this idea of not accepting the duality that they carry.
An identity card or a passport do not erase an education, upbringing, or a family heritage in its worldliness. One of the stars of the team, Paul Pogba has a brother who plays football for the Guinean national team. Nabil Fekir, prior to saying yes to join the French national team, said yes first to play for the Algerian national team but ultimately changed his mind. Why did Fekir have such hesitation before making his decision? The answer is simple — because he is both Algerian and French. Of course all of the bi-national players are not submitted to this level of uncertainty where they have to choose between both of their national selections, but the fact that the question exists reinforces the idea that the players are conscious of the fact that they are French, but not only French.
Moreover, it is interesting to note that France was the country that contributed the highest number of players who were born on its soil among all the players present at the world cup. A total of 50 players present at the world cup were born in France; 21 of them played for the French national team. The remaining French born players played mainly for countries like Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco. Should these players who decided to play for another country’s selection be considered less French than the ones who decided to play for France? The answer is obviously no. Playing for another selection does not diminish the fact they are also French. The majority of them have a common denominator reinforcing the complexity that defines them — because the majority of these players families come from countries that were formerly part of the French colonial empire.
The history of French colonialism around the world is a point that cannot be neglected in the players’ identity construction and the upbringing that they received. The recent past unifying their families to France and its history is conflictual. To describe them only as French as stated by the French ambassador unavoidably causes one to omit how they became French and the political aspects surrounding the victory. There is a difference between the son of an immigrant coming to France from Sweden and the son of an Algerian immigrant in France. The laws are maybe the same but the perception made by the French society is not the same. The links between France and Sweden versus France and its former colony of Algeria are not the same. The players’ families are of course fully aware of this aspect of their migration and whether or not they view this victory as a revenge, they no doubt see this victory as a triumph for the descendants of all the colonized people who were forced to migrate to mainland France. When N’Golo Kanté lifts the trophy, his Malian parents in France are happy but it is also Mali that celebrates. The same is true for Corentin Tolisso and his Togolese origins.
Whether France’s World Cup victory was an event in most of the world, their is no doubt that for many African countries this victory was celebrated and almost as meaningful as an own victory. In refusing to acknowledge this victory as also an African victory, some French politicians opened the door to some of the most offensive and racist comments. We also should not forget that France was not ready to claim these children of African roots when they were not yet victorious. Following France’s fiasco during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, questions of the players’ origins were used as a boomerang to point fingers in the face of defeat. It started with French media paying particular attention to which players were singing the national anthem and which were not and why, imputing explanations that the singing was unanimous when the team was mostly comprised of white French. As a result, today all of the French national team’s players now sings “la Marseillaise”(the French national anthem) very loud to make sure to dispel any doubts about their feelings towards France. It is absolutely crazy to ponder how a small minority of racist people can have such a huge influence on the whole society leading to debates over non-questions, like who is singing the national anthem and with how much enthusiasm?
Yes the majority of the French players have African origins nonetheless and they are French but not ONLY. Identities should not be exclusive when they are in reality layered and inclusive!