By Nick Ogutu
Yes, it is France! Or “Les Bleus” as they are famously known. Congratulations to France for winning the FIFA World Cup in Russia. This is the second time France has won the coveted cup in a sport that has yet to become popular in USA but is extremely popularly worldwide. In 2001, France was also the first national team to win the three most important men’s titles recognized by FIFA: The World Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Olympic tournament after victory in the Confederations Cup. Just like any other sport, winning a championship involves decisions both on and off the field. Let’s take a few moments to analyze this French team and see if there are any lessons America can learn from the French.
Apart from the African and Caribbean countries that participated in the World Cup, France had the highest number of players of color, mainly Black. This is a record they have held for many decades. In fact, in 1998 when they won World Cup for the first time, most of their players were people of color. Most of their players were either born abroad or their parents were. This diversity extends to city demographics as well. For example, in Paris, the biggest city in France, almost 40 percent of those 20 years or younger are either foreign born or have immigrant parents. Just like many other countries, the very face of nationhood is changing. A simple glance at a photograph of the current French national team, is enough to explain why the leader of France’s racist far right, Jean Marie Le Pen – The French equivalent to President Donald Trump – long ago disowned it as “not a real French team”, despite the glory the team has brought to the country. Every player but two in its starting 1998 World Cup lineup had roots in Africa. For the past five World Cup tournaments, France’s hopes have rested on the shoulders of the exquisitely talented Algerian born midfielder Zinedine Zidane, star striker born of Caribbean immigrant parents Thiery Henry, and midfield powerhouse Senegalese born Patrick Viera. New Black players who took over from the older generation include Paul Pogba, whose parents immigrated from Guinea, N’golo Kante’s parents were born in Mali, and the star of 2018 World Cup, Kylian Mbappe, whose father was a refugee from Cameroon. This team delivered France it’s second World Cup title. Kylian Mbappe has gone a step further by donating his entire prize money-$500,000- to a French charity. This did not surprise those who know him, because he paid for twenty-four young kids from France to attend the just concluded World Cup, showing his commitment to the France nation.
Other countries are learning fast from the French and are tapping into the talent of refugees and immigrants. Belgium, which took the bronze medal in the 2018 World Cup, for the first time had the highest number of non-white players in their starting lineup. Additionally, even their assistant coach, Thierry Henry, is Black. There is no doubt players like Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi, and Romelu Lukaku whose family lineage is outside Belgium, have brought honor to their country. The story is repeated in England, Holland, Sweden, Germany, and other countries. Even my own country, Kenya, has been losing long distance runners to oil rich countries such as Bahrain, Dubai, and Qatar who pay them millions of dollars to change their citizenship. Kenyans adopted in those countries have, in many cases, won them their only Olympic medals. But why do countries go out of their way to lure such talents? It because immigrants make those countries great: they bring pride, honor, and benefits to the economy.
Yesterday, the presidents of Russia, France, Croatia, and many other dignitaries stood in heavy rain, soaking wet, not caring about their expensive suits, shoes, and watches, because of football. The Croatian president captured the world’s attention by showing her commitment to her country’s team by flying in and out of Russia many times during the tournament to attend all the Croatian team matches. Many teams, some of which did not even make it to the quarter-finals, will be received back home as heroes. These teams show what even competing for this coveted prize brings to the image of a nation. However, the newspaper headlines featuring other immigrant stories have sadly been different. Immigrants offer their hearts and souls for their adopted countries but are unfortunately not appreciated to the same degree. That is why immigrants must tell their stories and fight the negative narratives against them, not only in America but worldwide.
As residents of the Bronx, we have another “cup” to win. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary and the Bronx could not stop celebrating. Our district grabbed the headlines with the greatest upset in recent electoral history. The 28-year-old has been sensational, giving powerful speeches around the city and as a guest in different media houses. But just like the World Cup, she won semi-finals and still has to battle in the finals. The New York 14th Congressional District will become complicated if the rumors are true that current 14th District Rep. Joseph Crowley has re-entered the race on Working Families Party ticket. That is why on November 6, 2018, the date for general elections, those of you that are eligible to vote should come out and vote for their preferred candidate. To quote one famous American writer, Robert Heinlein, “Does history record any single case in which the majority was right?” You now have an opportunity to answer that question in November in the race between the youthful Ocasio- Cortez, against the little-known Republican Party nominee, Anthony Pappas and the possible third-party candidate, Rep. Joseph Crowley, who is the 10 term incumbent who just lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in the Democratic Party primary held in June.