After France won the FIFA World Cup on Sunday, many including the US President Donald Trump hailed the French team for dominating the World Championship.
What Trump, who is vociferously anti-immigrant in his policies, really did was congratulate a team of immigrants.
While many were rooting for Croatia to win as the ultimate underdogs of this year’s championship, the French football team, which has 19 immigrants or children of immigrants out of its 23 member squad, was writing a different kind of history for minorities the world over.
Immigrants constitute 9.1 percent of the population in France with nearly 6 million immigrants residing in the country according to its 2014 census as recorded in the INSEE statistics.
In fact, as news website Vox pointed out, 50 football players appearing in this year’s World Cup were born or raised in France.
When the French team won on Sunday, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan tweeted that Africa has won the championship. The allusion was to the high number of African immigrants on the winning team.
France’s strong immigration population owes itself to its post-World War II labour policies which required the country to bring in labour from its colonies in Africa and Europe to fight the labour crisis.
France was also one of the first countries in the world to develop a sophisticated system of scouting sports talent to boost its performance at the global scale and many immigrants and sons of immigrants were trained through this academy system.
The resulting current team is a glorious example of multi-culturalism, with stellar players mushrooming out of immigrant suburbs or ‘banlieuse’ as the French call them.
Kylian Mbappé, the 19-year-old star of the team is from the immigrant suburb of Bondy, a few kilometers from Paris, and is the son of an Algerian mother and a Cameroonian father.
Paul Pogba was born in Lagny-sur-Marne, a French commune, to parents who were both immigrants from Guinea. He is a devout Muslim.
Blaise Matuidi was born in Toulouse and is the son of a Congolese mother and his father is from Angola.
Samuel Umtiti was born in Cameroon and moved to France’s Villeurbanne near Lyon when he was two years old.
N’Golo Kante was born in Paris to parents who had immigrated from Mali. Kante is a devout Muslim and prays regularly.
Antoine Griezmann was born and raised in the French city of Mascon. His father was originially from Germany while his mother traces her roots to Portugal.
Ousmane Dembélé was born in Normandy. His mother is French through Mauritian and Senegalese descent and his father is from Mali.
Thomas Lemar was born in Baie-Mahault in Guadalupe.
Steve Mandanda Mpidi was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He immigrated to Evreux in France when he was two.
Alphonse Aerola traces his descent to Philippines. In fact he has made history as the first player of Fillipino descent to become a World Cup champion. His parents migrated to France before Areola’s birth in Paris.
Presnel Kimpembe was born in the French commune of Beaumont-sur-Oise. His father is Congolese while his mother is from Haiti.
Djibril Sidibé and Benjamin Mendy are both of Senegalese descent.
Nabil Fekir was born in Paris to Algerian parents.
Adil Rami was born on a Corsican island to Moroccan parents.
Olivier Giroud was born in France’s Chambery and traces his descent to Italy as both his grandmothers were Italian.
Steve Nzonzi was born in the French commune of La Garenne-Colombes. His father was Congolese while his mother was French.
Corentin Tolisso traces is paternal lineage to Togo, officially the Togolese Republic, a sovereign state in West Africa.
Hugo Lloris and Lucas Hernandez both share Spanish heritage.
Karim Benzema, who was not playing the World Cup but is still a French national player is the son of Algerian immigrants.
While many in France and internationally have hailed the French victory as a win for multiculturalism, critics have not failed to remind the world of the harsh tensions that exist between indigenous French population and the immigrants.
The right wing French Opposition leader Marine Le Pen, has long been anti-immigration and several politician in France have spoken out against the ‘immigrant problem’ in France.
Right-wing leader Jean-Marine Le Pen had in 1998 attacked the French team as it had many ‘foreigners’ who refused to sing the French national anthem. The jibe was addressed to players such as former French captain Zinedine Zidane, who is born of Algerian parents.
In April, the Emmanuel Macron government passed a new, tougher anti-immigration law that has made deporting illegal immigrants easier. The bill shortened deadlines for asylum applications, doubled the time for which illegal migrants can be detained, and introduced a one-year prison sentence for entering France illegally.
Several charges of racism also abound in France and former immigrant players such as Lilian Thurman have been vocal about it. In 2016 following the Paris attacks, former footballer Louis Saha, who is a Black Muslim, claimed that France was behind other nations like UK in tackling racism.
But the current victory led by 15 players belonging to former French colonies in Africa has once again consolidated France’s immigrants as the true flag-bearers of the French pride and supremacy.