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Migrants give FIFA World Cup a new meaning

Future World Cups to see more migrant players as there is an increase in the number of migrants due to fresh wars and frequently occurring environmental disasters

November 28, 2022 / 10:27 AM IST
Croatia's Mario Pasalic, center, reaches for the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. (Image: AP/File)

Croatia's Mario Pasalic, center, reaches for the ball during the World Cup group F soccer match between Morocco and Croatia, at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. (Image: AP/File)

When Breel Embolo, the 25-year-old Cameron-born Swiss striker, scored his first FIFA World Cup goal against the land of his birth Cameron in the Cameron vs Switzerland match on November 24 in Al Janoub Stadium, he refused to celebrate.

He raised his hand, and looked almost apologetic as his teammates rushed to congratulate him. The commentator said, “... and no celebration, Breel Embolo scores against the nation of his birth..."

In short, it was Embolo, a migrant from Cameron in Switzerland, who handed over a victory to his host nation by defeating the nation where he was born.

Embolo is not the only migrant player in the Swiss team; winger Xherdan Shaqiri was born in Yugoslavia, and goalkeeper Philipp Kohn was born in Germany to a German father and Swiss mother. Even the 26-member FIFA team of Qatar, which is hosting the tournaments, has 10 migrant players.

In 2018, the World Cup-winning French squad had 87 percent of migrants, or children of migrants. This issue caught public attention then, with even US-based South Africa-born comedian Trevor Noah saying “Africa won the World Cup! Africa won the World Cup."

The French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, criticized Noah’s remarks. He declared that France did not consider its citizens in terms of race, religion, or migration background. In its squad in Doha, France has only three migrant players.

Three Football Corridors

According to a 2019 study, there are mainly three football migration corridors. The first one was due to colonialism, where people migrated between the colonisers and the colonies, mainly between France and Africa. This period also saw migration from South America to Europe.

The second one is geographical proximity, where migration took place within Europe. The third one is the guest worker migration corridor, as seen in the examples of Argentina-Italy, Germany-Turkey, and the Netherlands-Morocco.

Meanwhile, by analysing the background of many migrant players, one can see that poor economic conditions and civil war in their home countries have also pushed them to migrate to 'richer' and 'stable' countries.

Alphonso Davies and Anwer Mabil are good examples of how economic conditions and civil war forced many to flee their home countries.

Davies, a defender in the Canadian FIFA World Cup 2022 squad, was born in a refugee camp in Ghana, and then migrated to Canada.

Similarly, Mabil in the Australian FIFA World Cup 2022 squad, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. His parents, refugees from what is now South Sudan, left their home after fleeing conflict and the Second Sudanese Civil War.

Interestingly, between the 1930 tournament in Uruguay and the 2018 cup in Russia, the percentage of migrant players has ranged between 2 percent to 11 percent.

Increase In Migrant Players 

This year, in the 32 FIFA World Cup teams, more than 130 players are migrants or children of migrants, that is around 16 percent, and Morocco has 14 migrant players this year.

The five percent increase in migrant players in the current edition compared to the previous one hints at a rise in the future. The UN 2022 World Migration Report confirms an increase in migration. This tells us to ‘we can expect more migrant football players in small clubs and World Cup teams’.

In 2022, there are around 281 million international migrants in the world, which equates to 3.6 percent of the global population. In 2000, it was only 173 million.

The migration report also reveals that the two years saw major migration and displacement events. The displacement of millions due to conflicts, such as within and from the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan, and severe economic and political instability, such as that faced by millions of Venezuelans and Afghans, are cited in the report.

It also adds that there have been large-scale displacements triggered by climate- and weather-related disasters in many parts of the world in 2020 and 2021, including in China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, the United States, and Haiti.

Given this global reality, it is befitting that the tournament is taking place in Qatar, a country which has more migrants than native residents, in stadiums built by migrant workers. The strong migrant connection gives the ‘world’ in FIFA World Cup a new meaning.

Rejimon Kuttappan is a freelance journalist, and author. Twitter: @rejitweets. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

​Rejimon Kuttappan is a freelance journalist and author of ‘Undocumented: Stories of Indian Migrants in the Arab Gulf’. Twitter: rejitweets.
first published: Nov 28, 2022 10:27 am