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FIFA World Cup | Why I believe Africa has no claim to the French national team

In 2018, the French Team returned home to rapturous applause and a fancy reception hosted by President Emmanuel Macron. This year, they hoped to attain the same victory but Argentina did not come to just play. They came to win. Yet again, Africans and African-led blogs have decided to encroach on this close win by claiming that the continent too has a stake in it. They have heralded the French players as sons of the soil. They have claimed that their success is Africa’s success. I watch in awe as the madness unfolds each time the team wins or is close to winning, and anyone partaking in it should be ashamed of themselves.

Opportunity — not luck — is the greatest catalyst for a burgeoning dream to become a reality.

@ThePenWarrior

I consider it sad for Africa — also once known as the dark continent. What the success of the French team highlights for me is how dark Africa still is and how we need to come to terms with this darkness by shedding light on the issues, if the continent is to shine like the bright star that it truly is, without the need for its citizens to exchange their birthrights and become citizens of another man’s land. The question that we should all be asking ourselves in these moments is why are these men who we so proudly claim, claiming another continent? Maybe if we had the right infrastructures in place, more African teams would make it to the World Cup. Perhaps one of them would one day take the cup back to the motherland? Salute to the Moroccan team who finished fourth place, becoming both the first African and Arab nation to reach a semi-final at a World Cup.

While you celebrate or commiserate with France, think about the amount of talent and potential Africans have when in the right environments and given the right opportunities and support. It is sad because it demonstrates to me that somehow, the continent has failed in retaining its most talented. The brain drain is affecting every facet of society. This is not just about sports. Japaism has heightened leading up to Nigeria’s 2023 elections with the country now having the highest number of migrants to the United Kingdom. Not only are those who cannot find work looking for greener pastures, but people are also leaving professional jobs that they have degree-level qualifications for, to come here and work in health and social care, seeking structure, security, and stability. Doctors are looking for better conditions to practice their vocation elsewhere. Teachers and lecturers are looking for where they will be paid their worth and on time too. Parents who can afford it are constantly in search of a better future for their children. So many gifted people have been forced to migrate by the continued and wilful degradation of our naturally resourced, beautiful and substantially blessed homelands.

So please forgive me if you did not see me claiming or celebrating with Thomas Lemar in 2018 — whose Wikipedia page mentions nothing about him having Nigerian roots by the way, — or claiming any part of his success. What has Nigeria ever offered him? Or commiserating with Kylian Mbappé this year as Emmanuel Macron consoled and assured him after the team lost the cup to Argentina. I have no clue what struggles these men have all endured, how or why they or their parents or grandparents left their countries of origin, or what their individual paths to French citizenship have been. However, as an African, what I can say is that I am proud of each and every single one of them. I am elated that not only was Lemar afforded the right opportunity, but he was able to use it to maximise his potential. Same with Mbappé and the others. Much unlike the young men with possible premier league potential, who are relegated to kicking around a ball made of plastic bags, sometimes in their flip-flops, in the slums of Ajegunle and Makoko.

If this sounds a little far-fetched, please be reminded that several Nigerian football stars including Samson Siasia, Taribo West, Emmanuel Amuneke, Ikpe Ekong, Brown Ideye, and once highest-paid African player Odion Ighalo, are all roses that grew up from the concretes of Ajegunle in Lagos. If you know, you know. As I spare a thought for the many who are less fortunate and frustrated by poverty and lack of opportunity, looking for an escape from the challenges, delving into a life of crime, drugs, and alcohol, my hope is that more than anything else, Team France can serve as a source of inspiration, driving them to never give up on their dreams and to continue honing their skills until God-willing, it is their time to shine. Though to be fair, even as I say that, I feel a bit disingenuous because deep down in my heart I know that opportunity — not luck — is the greatest catalyst for a burgeoning dream to become a reality. I sigh. Deeply.

To the French I say, bien joué. Hopefully, this will be a unifying moment. A moment to realise that there is no place for prejudice and discrimination on a winning team. A moment to face racism, xenophobia, and islamophobia head-on. If you can adorn your players with so much adulation and respect when they win, you can empathise with them in solidarity when they lose. You can also spare a little compassion for an immigrant who is thousands of miles away from their comfort zone, desperately seeking a better life. Although it might be too late for them, their children may be on your winning team one day! On ne peut qu’espérer. 

Glossary of Terms:

Japaism: “Japa, a Yoruba slang which means “to run, flee or escape”, has taken root in the minds of young Nigerians and become something they aspire to, in hopes of a better future in a more structured system. But while these young citizens seek greener pastures in other countries, it spells doom for the Nigerian economy and the now-distant relationships between those who choose to remain and those who leave.”

blue and brown welcome to the beach signage

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