Kicking Up a Storm on Immigration

Farewell World Cup.

You will be sorely missed, although as as European I only have to wait two years instead of four to see my national team, Engalnd, once again spectacularly fail to deliver. Congratulations Spain, and moreover, congratulations to the many immigrants who put in jaw-dropping performances for their adopted countries, despite - in many instances - anti-immigrant rhetoric stirring political waters back home.

To name but a few: Jozy Altidore, born in Haiti, and Jose Torres, born in Mexico, both wore Team USA colors; Gael Fernandes, born in Cape Verde, scored a gamewinner for eventual champions Spain; and even the North Koreans fielded players born in South Korea and Japan.

This brief list doesn't even touch upon the impact second-generation immigrants have had on sports culture. 11 of the 23 players in the German squad, who deftly secured third place in this World Cup, were the offspring of immigrant parents. At home, the country's media was ablaze with opinion-makers coming out for and against comments made by Thilo Sarrazin, a board member at Deutsche Bundesbank, who said that immigrants from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa are making Germany "dumber".

Similarly, 15 of Team USA's 23 members had at least one immigrant parent. Yet while immigration reform and the legislative battle over Arizona SB1070 was dividing communities and making headlines at home, the stars of soccer remained strangely silent. Although several Major League Baseball players, and the Move The Game campaign, have used their public visibility to defend immigrant rights, despite their legacy sportspersons have traditionally been minor league players in the conversation on immigration.

Honoring immigrants on the field, and building working relationships between advocates and sportspersons behind the scenes, could challenge unhelpful stereotypes and cement the benefits of cultural diversity in the public imagination.  Sports reach a wide, varied audience and, as German Football Association President Theo Zwanziger has acknowledged, celebrating immigrant sportsmen and women "shows the world that young people from immigrant backgrounds can be successful."

There is even proof that sports can make an impact: in the UK, football clubs haver long worked individually and together on educational and zero-tolerance campaigns to stamp out racism. The name-calling that players still report suffering from when they play in mainland Europe has been virtually eradicated, and ongoing initiatives (like the Anti-Racism World Cup) continue to impact on the minds and manners of fans, players and the sports industry. These long-term and educational strategies go beyond simple sports diplomacy, which resulted in a sporting boycott of South Africa under apartheid and a very partial current sporting boycott of Arizona.

By working together, sportspersons, advocates, and the media have shown that they can secure a more inclusive and equal environment that reaches far beyond the playing field. If sports can change the conversation on race, then why not immigration?

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.

Tags: football, immigration, FIFA, athlete, Soccer, World Cup, Opportunity (all tags)

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