FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The World Cup and the Politics of Immigration

by JULES BOYKOFF

The World Cup has produced some mercurial moments, with defending champions Italy getting the early boot, all African teams but Ghana vanquished in the first round, and longshots like Japan and Slovakia advancing to the knockout round. We’ve heaped plenty of scrutiny on England’s lack of zest, South America’s well-deserved success, and France’s pathetic implosion. But the tournament has also provided compelling political undercurrents that deserve our attention.

For starters, several European countries with borderline draconian immigration policies have benefited massively from immigration. While the right-wing ratchets up its anti-immigrant rhetoric, it’s immigrants who have actually helped these countries achieve World Cup success. Take Germany. Without Mesut Ozil—the son of a Turkish guest worker—whose left-footed zinger against Ghana vaulted Germany to the second round, the Germans would not only be manifestly less imaginative but long ago would’ve been back in Deutschland nursing hefeweizen and watching the rest of the tournament on television. Brazilian-born Cacau has injected energy into Germany’s attack after securing citizenship last spring. His striking partner Miroslav Klose was born in Poland as was Lukas Podolski — and both were stars in Germany’s 2006 World Cup campaign.

In Switzerland, where leading political party, the Union Démocratique du Centre, has pushed anti-immigrant policy and tried to outlaw the construction of minarets, Gelson Fernandes, who was born in Cape Verde, scored the gamewinner against mighty Spain while Congo-born Blaise Nkufo has provided a consistent, muscular presence up front. And where would Portugal be without their skillful Brazilian-born trifecta of Pepe the enforcer, striker Liedson, and midfield stalwart Deco whose play was pivotal in getting Portugal to South Africa in the first place? Despite racist wailings from Arizona, the US squad has also benefited from immigration. Jozy Altidore—who was vital to US success in this World Cup—has parents who emigrated from Haiti. Altidore regularly wears a wristband with a Haitian flag on it to acknowledge his heritage — to be sure, the wristband also has an American flag on it.

Such immigrant success on the World Cup stage has induced a wave of Orwellian doublethink, with right-wing hyper-nationalists football aficionados simultaneously holding two contradictory ideas in their skulls at the same time. Veins bulging from their necks as they root for the home team, these fans spout xenophobia by day and don the national team strip by night.

But European reactionaries and conservatives aren’t the only ones suffering from doublethink. I suffer from it, too, though in a different sense. I realize South Africa is getting reamed by FIFA, with record profit outflows leaving the country and extravagant stadium building prioritized over the basic needs of the citizenry. FIFA and its boosters have trotted out the standard-issue, trickle-down claptrap used to rationalize all international sporting extravaganzas. There’s also the unsavory practice of corporate sponsors fiendishly enforcing their commercial pole position, hounding ambush marketers as if they were abject murderers. All together it’s red-card-abominable and I fully support the dissidents who are marching against these serious injustices.

And yet my heart can’t but help get fully immersed in the ups and downs of this World Cup. Sure, I love the game of football, but I also believe football players have the potential to press us collectively toward a more just society. Terry Eagleton recently wrote, “for the most part football these days is the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine.” The subtle key to that passage is “for the most part.” In fact, numerous footballers themselves have sliced against this zeitgeist, engaging in a wide array of charity work. Holland’s Dirk Kuyt runs a foundation that makes sport more available to the disabled. Joseph Yobo of Nigeria has done significant social-uplift work with youth in the Niger Delta, doling out more than 300 educational scholarships. Fellow Super Eagle Nwanko Kanu runs a foundation for people with heart ailments.

But charity work is not the same thing as taking a strong, public stand on controversial issues like immigration or war, let alone engaging in social-justice activism. Due to the hyper-commercialized nature of football, players don’t want to alienate sponsors (existing or potential), aggravate team owners and administrators, or deflect the venom of fans who screech that they should just shut up and play. It makes more sense to go the route of David Beckham, becoming a one-size-fits-all, polysemic athlete who spectators can read in any way they wish.

Yet I can’t let go of the glimmering hope that footballers could speak out. You may be mumbling to yourself that the odds of this happening are about as good as those of French coach Raymond Domenech being named World Cup Manager of the Year. But players have moved beyond charity work in the past, with Didier Drogba employing his football acumen as a platform to help reconcile political factions in the Ivory Coast.

And sportswriter Dave Zirin is right: “Sport is, at the end of the day, like a hammer. And you can use a hammer to bash someone over the head or you could use it to construct something beautiful. It’s in the way that you use it.” In these final days of the World Cup, I’ll be relishing the luscious mélange of teamwork, individual skill, and artistry that only football can deliver. But I’m also hoping that a big-name footballer will brandish his socio-political hammer to build something bigger than himself and indeed bigger than the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

JULES BOYKOFF is a former professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic team in international matches. He is an associate professor of Political Science at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. He can be reached at: boykoff@pacificu.edu

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
 North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail