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Diversity At The Heart Of Belgian Football

July 5th, 2018

Diversity At The Heart Of Belgian Football

Football is the flavour of the season, this summer. Recently, Belgium’s football team threw caution to the wind and clinched a spot in the FIFA World Cup quarter- finals. Whilst Marouane Fellaini scored the equalizing goal, substitute Nacer Chadli scored in the dying seconds as Belgium completed a miraculous comeback, from 2 goals down, against Japan. Belgium’s scintillating performance in the match echoes coach Roberto Martinez’s thoughts, “That’s what happens in the World Cup. It was a test of character and a test of the team. It tells you everything about this group of players.” Interestingly, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli are Belgium-born but have their roots in Morocco. Further research revealed that out of the 23 players selected to participate in the World Cup, 11 are second or third generation immigrants whose families migrated to Belgium in search of better opportunities.

Conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that the immigrants and their descendants reap benefits of setting up their lives abroad. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that countries too benefit from immigration in a big way. Take the Belgian football team as an example, some of its immigrant team members are child prodigies. For instance Romelu Lukaku, of Congolese descent, played his first match at the age of 16. Michy Batshuayi, with his roots in Congo, kick started his football career at the age of 18. Adnan Januzaj, of Kosovo-Albanian ethnicity was a child prodigy who played the first match of his career at 16. Belgium’s blockbuster performance against Japan would not have been possible without the talent of a few of its immigrant players. These players also double up as top players at the world’s leading football clubs – like Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona and many others.

Football as a game evokes a unifying emotion amongst football fans across the globe and acts as an ideal ice breaker. When expats or immigrants move to a new country, they are in search of a sense of homecoming and familiarity. Local football clubs open their doors for expats and immigrants to train and play for the club. This helps foreigners settle into a new country. The Royal Brussels British FC (RBBFC) is one such club which consists of 6 teams and 150 members. The club takes into its fold anybody between the ages of 16 to 60 with a love for football. Such initiatives create opportunities for children of immigrants to channelize their energy in a positive direction and settle into their new lives. A few of them may subsequently end up playing at the World Cup for the country that became ‘home’ for them. It is definitely a win-win situation for both, the country and the immigrants.