World Cup Football and Race

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A football and a replica of the Word Cup trophy. Courtesy of Fauzan Saari.

Qatar 22 is coming to an end, France and Argentina are lacing up their boots for the trophy. Some features make this edition of the football competition special. Great teams like Brazil and others exited early to most people’s stupefaction, an African Arab team, Morocco, reached the quarter finals for the first time, after beating soccer giant, Portugal.

Now race cannot be left out of the World Cup discourse. Rumours, discussions and conversations looked at the presence of Black players in certain teams, their instrumental contribution to the victory of those teams, while other teams have few to no Blacks unlike France that has a history of multicoloured, national teams. Most of their players are from Sub Saharan and North Africa, and the French colonies or Departments in the Caribbean. Zinedine Zidane, popularly known as ZiZou, although born in Southern France is of Algerian Kabyle descent. He, undoubtedly, is in the pantheon of the soccer geniuses of France. Kilyian Mbappé is currently the darling boy of French soccer, born in Paris to a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother.  Marcel Desailly who was born Odenke Abbey in Accra, Ghana, was a pillar of the French team in the 90s. The French squad is, therefore, filled with immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Almost 92 per cent of the current French squad and staff are from other countries of the world.

Many see that diversity within the French national team as the result of the French assimilation colonial policy and, de facto, conclude that immigrants are accepted in France. Let us not get carried away and remain oblivious to the fact that like most western countries, immigrants find it hard to integrate in France. The whole thing is more complicated and film maker and activist Rokhaya Diallo refers to this phenomenon as the “idea of the exception”. She further explains, “you have to be exceptional to be seen. You cannot be just an average person and be considered as being part of the national fabric. You need to be the best hip-hop artiste, the best actor, the best soccer player”.

The need for labour after WWII forced France to encourage immigration into the country and that also contributes to what we are witnessing. Although Black players are our main concern here, immigrants, in general, constitute more than the backbone of the French team. For instance, despite being a European nation, 87 per cent of the 2018 soccer world cup winning team in Russia was made up of immigrants. As of 2014, there were up to six million immigrants living in France, which has a robust immigrant population of 9.1 per cent. Many of the immigrant labourers later made France their permanent home, where they raised families and developed successful careers. Their children went on to win the World Cup for France decades later.

That team, that is in majority made of non-French, Blacks from Africa or of African descent has been referred by a Burkinabè artist ZS in these terms, in the 1990s: “France is like an engine; for it to function you need oil which is a mixture”. Science teaches us that engine oil has the following composition: 78 per cent base oil, 10 per cent viscosity improvement additive and 3 per cent detergent.

Sources say that 12 players of Didier Descamps’s squad for Qatar 2022 are Black. This could really be called a Pan-African all-star team.  The French team, typically known as Les Bleus ultimately got the nickname: “Black, Blanc, Beur” (Black, White and Arab).

The case of Argentina, who is playing the final of this Qatar World Cup, against France, is interesting, and presents a stark contrast. While their opponent France has several Blacks and African Arabs in their team, Argentina has never allowed any Black to wear their national jersey. The Argentinian team certainly has immigrants, and probably White Amerindians who are the product of miscegenation since White immigration was encouraged or adopted as a national policy. The Argentine political philosopher and diplomat Juan Bautista Alberdi, who said “to govern is to populate,” promoted White European immigration to the country and Argentine President Justo José de Urquiza (1854-60) supported Alberdi’s ideas and incorporated them in the country’s first constitution. Amendment 25 clearly stated: “The federal government shall foster European immigration.”

Research shows that Blacks have been exterminated in Argentina. Unlike some South American countries like Brazil (that has the largest population of Blacks outside Africa), Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Blacks have been “taken out” in Argentina. Transatlantic slave trade brought Blacks, as it happened in other South American countries. Before the 16th century slaves had arrived in relatively small numbers from the Cape Verde islands. Thereafter, the majority of Africans brought to Argentina were from ethnic groups of territories like today’s Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. Relatively few Yoruba and Ewe were taken there.  That South American country embarked on a real genocide of the Blacks. They were used as cannon fodder in the war against Paraguay. So, Argentinians who are open and honest about that issue say that “we do not have Blacks in our country, we killed them all after slavery”. Diseases were introduced in their midst, Blacks were sent to live in an area where the plague existed, no health facilities or protection of any type was introduced in that area. In other words, Argentinians used Paraguay and the plague to wipe away Blacks from their country. Blacks who survived fled to countries like Bolivia, Peru, Chili, Bolivia and even Paraguay. When Blacks found refuge in those countries that accepted them and found soccer there, they encouraged other Blacks in Argentina to join them. Those Blacks were trying to escape threats like what Former Argentinian President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1868-1874) was arguing for: he equated modernity with Whiteness, wrote on Argentina’s “backwardness” and what he and others perceived as the need to become “civilized.” The nation should be associated more strongly with European, rather than African or Amerindian, heritage.

Aside from that direct extermination, the whitening of the race was practised. Light-skinned women were encouraged to have children with white men, so that progenitures would keep getting whiter and whiter. Anti-Black sentiment is so profound that Black artistic values and many other heritages are stripped of their Black origin. Tango for instance is not recognized as a dance with a Black origin. Candombe (music and dance) whose seeds originated in present-day Angola, is also viewed as non-African and the average Argentinian will tell you that there has never been Blacks in their country. History has been rewritten. Anti-black sentiment is so profound in that country that the Nazi who were seeking refuge after WWII simply relocated to Argentina.

Nonetheless, counter movements have emerged, but they face such deeply grounded hurdles. There have been Black organizations that help to rekindle interest in the African heritage of Argentina. The denial of African ancestry still lies in the dichotomy between the “official” census records of the country and the true figures on the terrain. According to the Argentine national census of 2010, the total population of Argentines was 40,117,096, of whom 149,493 (0.37%) identified as Afro-Argentine, although according to gene pools studies, the Argentine population with some degree of Sub-Saharan African descent would be around 7.5 per cent. There is, therefore, no doubt that no dark skin player is on Lionel Messi’s team. Historical distortion goes further to call the Holocaust a genocide, while the world turns a blind eye to the effacement of Blacks in Argentina.

 Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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8 Comments

  1. Wow😍❤️…thank you Prof.

    In 1938, when they participated in the world cup for the 3rd time, they sent Raoul Diagne, the first black man to play for the french national team. He was from Senegal. He could play every position including goalkeeping. Diagne later came to Senegal to be the first coach of the Senegalese national team in 1960. Since then, blacks have always had their in the French national team. They used 15 black players to win the 2018 world cup with 9 of these 15 players playing in their finale game against Croatia. 5 players of black descent also started their final game against Argentina last Sunday and all the other 6 on bench also came in as substitutes. Only the black goalkeeper, Mandanda couldn’t play in the final game…very interesting

  2. Now it seems it’s only the North Africans that are serious about their football and other sports at the moment. Morocco for instance used $800,000 out of the $1.5m to build an ultramodern hotel facility to camp their National team players for any tournament. Again, they have been very proactive in getting their players in every country come play for them. In this current Morocco team that finished 4th at the just ended Mondial, most of their players were born and raised in foreign countries yet the Moroccan FA mad sure to get them into the Moroccan national team. *Players like Hakim Zyiech was born in Dronten, (Netherlands) Achraf Hakimi was born and raised in Madrid (Spain), Sofyan Amrabat was born and raised in Huizen (Netherlands), Yassine Bounou was born and raised in Montreal (Canada).. etc*. All these players had their talent groomed in other countries but the FA managed to get them back to their roots to play for the National team. Furthermore, the Arab African countries are also investing heavily in their football and are paying their local players very well, hiring top-notch coaches and build ultramodern sports infrastructure thereby making their players stay and play their football in the country. When we compare the Senegal team that played the AFCON final with Egypt, we’ll see that all the Senegalese were foreign based players while the Egyptians had about 60% local-based players. It’s evidently clear that the Northern African countries are prioritizing their football than those at the other part of Africa thereby making a lot of the African countries lose their talents to the Whites .

  3. The Westners are not just dominating the world football by chance, they’re doing so through heavy investment. They have invested so much in their local leagues to the extent that their players are not willing to travel outside and play their football. Let’s look at England for instance, with the exception of Jude Bellingham, all the rest of the players that represented the three lions of England play their football in England. They’re making the league so attractive and lucrative so any immigrant who finds himself there would definitely be happy playing in such league and through that they’re catching them at young ages to naturalize and play for them. FIFA gave an amount of $1.5m to every country for sports development. What did Ghana use their own for? Our only national sports facility in Prampram is rotting away and now national team players camp outside the facility. Let’s take a look at Esipong stadium in Takoradi, even cattle would refuse grazing there at the moment. For lack of maintenance culture, a stadium that was built in just 2008 to hold CAN 2008 is now damaged to the core.

  4. Hmmmmmm!!
    Very informative and rich. I’m very glad to have had this opportunity of reading this article.
    Is it our fault that we are black? If whites do not see any worth in us, we should be able to recognise our worth and take pride in who we are. We are Africans and will always be.

    Thank so much Prof

  5. Great write-up, Prof. But Prof, I think the black footballers that chose to play for the whites do so mostly because they’re attracted to the structures and programmes that have been put in place by the football associations over there. In England for instance, the government has a budgetary allocation mainly for talent development in football. Players such as Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, James Reece, Raheem Sterling etc have spoken in an affirmative to the fact they actually benefited from the talent development fund. These players are all from African descent but the footballing structures in the UK have attracted them to play for the whites. In our African countries, with the exception of the Arab Africans, most of our talents go unnoticed due to lack of the state’s commitment to that area. So whenever an African migrant gives birth and the child is a footballer, the parents rather encourage the children to play for the foreign country rather than considering their home countries. Most African players opt to play for their country of origin when they identify that they ain’t going to get call ups into the foreign national teams. Ghana for instance have lost great players such as Gerald Asamoah, Memphis Depay, Danny Welbeck, Cody Gakpo, Jeremy Frimpong, Mohammed Muntari,.. etc and on the verge of losing players such as Callum Hudson Odoi, Edie Nketiah… etc. Had it not been the fact that the Argentines are not accommodating to the blacks, most Africans would have opted to play for them too like we’re seeing in France and other countries. Aside from the fact that monetary support and good structures are given to young talents abroad, the foreign countries are also working hard all the time to make their premier leagues attractive so players always want to stay in their countries and trade their football there. For instance, looking at the England national team, about 98% of the call-ups to this world cup are players playing their football in England. It’s just like the Ghana black stars going to a tournament with only players from Kotoko and Hearts. But sadly, our leagues are not attractive enough so most of our players travel abroad to play professional football. In the case those players haven’t play in the Ghanaian national team before and they attract interest from the foreign national teams, they then tend to naturalize and play for those countries of trade. To be able to solve this talent-drain problem, the African nation’s need to invest a lot in our football industry.

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