Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Africa didn't win the FIFA World Cup 2018. France did

Africa was represented in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia by five countries: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. With the elimination of all African teams from the tournament in the group stages - the last to exit the big stage being Senegal - many Africans, either out of ridicule or genuine support - turned to France, and dubbed the European country's squad an "African team". Others referred to it as the "United Nation of France" or "Africa United" - due to the large number of players of African descent in the squad. Many claimed that there was still an "African team" in the tournament, despite the fact that no side from Africa made it to the knockout stages. France went on to win the World Cup, and the chatter surrounding the French side continued - with some claiming Africa won it for France.

Africa, according to the BBC, suffered its worst World Cup display in 36 years, with no side from the African continent making it to the knockout stages for the first time since 1982. France went on to win the tournament, with nineteen of its 23 players being immigrants or children of immigrants, according to AJ+ on Twitter. According to an article posted on The Undefeated, twelve of the 23 French players are of African ancestry. The BBC puts the number at fifteen out of 23.

Since all teams from the African continent exited the tournament the ethnic composition of the French national team has been making the rounds on social media. After the final, social media was awash with tweets and Facebook posts about the African ancestry of French players. One Twitter user, for example captured it all when he congratulated Africa for the victory.

That was the general point of view of Africans online after the final whistle in Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018.


France, not Africa, won the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is true that on account of personnel, the French national team is made up of Africans but it is, in fact, France's team. The French players - be it Samuel Umtiti whose parents are reported from my home country, Cameroon, or Adil Rami whose parents are reportedly from Morocco, or Paul Pogba whose parents reportedly hail from Guinea, or Blaise Matuidi whose parents hail from Angola and Congo, or N'Golo Kante whose parents reportedly hail from Mali - are French. They are French nationals, and France gave them the training and opportunity they need to play football at the highest level. They wore the French colors and represented France, not Africa - which by the way is not a country.

The way I see it, France takes almost all, if not all, credit for winning the World Cup, and it would be disingenuous to argue otherwise. The only credit I give Africa is ancestry - and ancestry alone, I believe, cannot win tournaments.

The French starting XI at the World Cup final was made up of many players of African descent: Kante, Pogba, Matudi, Mbappe and Umtiti. But Africa's contribution to their success in terms of football is almost non-existent. None of them has ever played professional or academy football in Africa. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that chances are, due to bad governance and corruption, including nepotism and lack of basic infrastructure many of the French star players, including 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe whose father reportedly hails from Cameroon and mother from Algeria would not have had an opportunity to reach their full potential had there been in Africa. As a Cameroonian, I am all too aware of how bad governance has ruined the nation, including sports. Mbappe who won the FIFA Young Player Award would, I reckon, probably not have made it into the Cameroonian national team due to nepotism. He might not even have had an opportunity to play football as a tot due to socio-economic limitations. And even if he beat the odds and made it into the team, corruption would have stunted his development in the trade.  

I would argue further that many Africans who recognize French players now would have probably not embraced them had they not won the World Cup, or if a team from the continent had gone further in the tournament. It would have been interesting to see the reaction if France came up against Nigeria, for example.

The representation of the French Team as an "African team" is opportunistic and intended to divide and provoke France - a country many Africans see as responsible for the sorry-state of affairs on the African continent as a result of colonial and neocolonialism. It is also a somewhat racially divisive point to make -- as it pits people of African descent against the rest of France. It plays right into the hands of racist far-right extremists who hold the view that immigrants or children of immigrants born and raised in France are not and can never be French.

The players who won the World Cup are French. They recognize themselves as such, legally and socio-culturally, and that is what matters. They are of African descent but they are also French. In fact, Paul Pogba, speaking ahead of a the game said, amongst other things, that "we all feel French, we're all happy to wear this jersey".

If Africa wants credit for winning the FIFA World Cup it should start investing in its young people, and, of course, their parents, so that they won't have to leave the continent - sometimes making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean sea - seeking refuge and opportunities elsewhere.

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