Euro 2016: Multi-cultural football teams do not a melting pot make


europe diversityThe Euro 2016 soccer championships begin in France today and according to some, the tournament illustrates the glorious multi-cultural multi-racial ease enjoyed by Europe’s top teams.

The Washington Post offers as examples current World Cup champions Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium and France. It points to the German team’s Mesut Ozil, an observant Muslim of Turkish heritage. And Sweden’s “maverick talisman,” Zlatan Ibrahimovic, “the son of Bosnian Muslim refugees.” It says that a majority of the Swiss team’s starting line-up consists of players born of “immigrants or exiles from Balkan wars.” And it reminds us that the Belgian captain is half Congolese, one of his players is half Indonesian and the “entire strike force is made up of the products of African immigration.”

But it is Euro 2016 host France that is seen as the apex of multiculturalism. The Post writes that a majority of its team “has roots outside France’s continental borders, from places as far-flung as the Indian Ocean island of Reunion to the Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe and many countries in between.”

There are two things to say about this:

–   the sports field does not really reflect the real world

–   the multi-culturalism of some of Europe’s top soccer teams is a map of past colonial engagements (France, Belgium), recent European migration (Switzerland, Sweden) and a self-serving economic policy (Germany’s guest worker scheme that brought 900,000 Turks into the country between 1961 and 1973 to man car plants, coal mines and steel foundries.)

What does that mean? Let’s break the above points down.

Multi-culturalism would be a reality and a dependable meritocratic process the day German, Swiss, Swedish, Belgian and French boardrooms looked somewhat like their football teams. Most of the Swiss team may have ethnicities foreign to Switzerland, but is that the case with Swiss CEOs? Or German mid-level managers? Or French junior managers? It’s true that the children of Turkish immigrants now play visible roles in German politics, the media, and in the pop music charts. But most of these fields are a bit like sport – relatively loose, freelance sectors that skitter on the edge of being performance art. Music, of course, is entertainment and like sport, diversity is not considered a threat in this sector.

The multi-culturalism of Europe’s top soccer teams is worthy of celebration – as well as a cold hard reckoning-up of how different they are from the rest of organic lived reality on the continent.