The BBC World Service documentary ‘Which country should I play for?’ tells an interesting story about the French Cameroonian professional footballer Sébastien Bassong.
Bassong, who was born and bred in France, decided to play for the Cameroon national team and explains the agonising decision with a heartwarming anecdote. Upon asking his father which country to play for, he was advised to listen to the national anthems of both and go with the one that stirred his heart. He picked Cameroon.
Bassong’s dilemma goes to the heart of the troubling situation faced by mixed-heritage footballers – which of my two or three countries of affiliation to represent?
This issue has been particularly prominent in 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, where 136 players represented countries other than the ones in which they were born. Quartz crunched the numbers and says those 136 form 16 per cent of all the squad players at the tournament, which is to say, one in six.
It’s been a couple of years since Fifa, global soccer’s governing body, revised its eligibility rules. In 2020, Fifa said players must have “a genuine link” with the national team that they intend to join. A genuine link could be place of birth, naturalisation (because they have long lived in a place), or place of one grandparent’s birth.
The idea was to stop countries like Qatar going on a player-shopping spree, something its football association tried to do in 2005 by offering big bucks to three Brazilian footballers.
But with the best will in the world, Fifa (or anyone else) can’t erase the imperial footprint that’s clear in many African football teams, not least Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Cameroon.
We’ll look at that next.