So France won the World Cup this year. At least I hear it did. I really don’t watch much soccer. When I was growing up, the world was divided differently than it is today. The French and English and Germans played soccer. Americans played football using a ball of the prolate spheroid persuasion. That was the reality. Roundball was basketball.
In the final game, France beat Croatia, which used to be included in what we called Yugoslavia. At least I know that a fellow named Josep Broz Tito once ran Yugoslavia. I don’t know much about Croatia.
In the semi-final game, France beat Belgium, for whom I was rooting even though I don’t watch soccer. One of the reasons I root for Belgium is that so many other nations, say those with whom it shares a border – France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg – don’t seem to like the Belgians. I don’t know what the problem is. What’s not to like about a country known for chocolate, waffles, and beer? Maybe these others countries are jealous. Furthermore, think how impoverished mystery novels and the movies would be had not Belgium given the world their two most famous detectives, Hercule Poirot and Inspector Clouseau.
Speaking of borders, there don’t seem to be many immigration agents patrolling international soccer. Even though only the citizens of a country are eligible to play for a country’s national team – this according to soccer’s governing body – 82 of the 736 players in this year’s World Cup play were not born in the country for which they played. That’s more than one out of ten.
This is different from the way it was explained to me as a kid. Turns out that French, English, and German soccer players aren’t always French, English, or German-born.
Of course, some teams have more than one out of ten players who was born out-of-bounds. Sixteen of France’s 23 players come from families that recently immigrated to France from countries such as Zaire, Cameroon, Morocco, Angola, Congo, and Algeria. That is seven out of ten. Plus, others of their players are a mélange. Half of one player’s body parts come from Germany, or his dad, and the other half from Portugal, his mom. Sounds like automobile manufacturing.
And not just France. The next three most-successful teams this year – Croatia, Belgium, and England – are multinational national teams. For example, eleven of England’s players are of African or Caribbean descent.
So, how come these players who weren’t born in a country are eligible to play for that country? I looked it up. Nationality is a racial or ethnic concept. It’s where you were born. Citizenship is a legal or juristic concept. It shows that you are registered as a citizen of a country. According to those who know, you can’t change your nationality, but a country can offer you citizenship different from what you have or in addition to what you have.
And because international soccer goes by citizenship, which has different rules from one country to the next, international soccer abides by the decision of the country offering citizenship to the player. If Croatia offers citizenship to a soccer player who can’t even find Croatia on the map, the soccer player can suit up for Croatia given he finds it in time for the game. Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj had offers from seven countries to play on national teams. I personally think he chose Belgium because their waffles help him keep up his stamina.
And did you see the picture of France’s President Emmanuel Macron celebrating France’s victory? He was watching the final game in a glassed-in luxury suite with Putin and other celebrities when the game ended. He jumped up – it looks like he landed on a table top – and threw one of his arms up in the air. “Vive la France! Wine, Soccer, and Song!” And then, since he already had one arm up in the air, I suppose he led France’s Marching Band in a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise. (They do play the victor’s national anthem at the World Cup like is done at the Olympics, don’t they?)
There’s something about President Macron, though, that doesn’t quite square with what I learned growing up about French presidents. He is 40 years old and happily married to Brigitte, age 65. (And no, not Bardot.) How they met is that she was a teacher at a Jesuit high school, and he was one of her students. How’s that for observing boundaries?
It used to be that the French Foreign Legion was basically a non-French man’s only path to being granted French citizenship. (True.) Remember Snoopy marching through the sandbox in his Foreign Legion hat in the comic strip Peanuts? Although his nationality was Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, if he had put in three years with the Legion, he could have applied for French citizenship. Or if he was wounded fighting the Red Baron on France’s behalf and lived, he could have applied while recuperating. And most certainly it would have been granted.
Charles Schulz should have drawn Snoopy playing soccer against the Red Baron instead of drawing Lucy jerking the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second before he could kick it. That way Snoopy would have had two paths to French citizenship, and at least one to English or Belgian or Croatian citizenship.
Or Russian. It’s hard to believe – Russia isn’t exactly an immigration destination for those outside the former Soviet Union – but Putin has the power to grant Russian citizenship. He granted citizenship to Brazilian soccer player Mario Fernandez, who wisely, in my opinion, didn’t give up his Brazilian citizenship. He now has dual citizenship.