Saturday, 22 June 2002

Only good players, please

WO R L D CUP. By the time this piece sees print, England will already have played Brazil in the quarter-finals of the 2002 Football World Cup, in what is billed as the match of the tournament. The last time the two teams met in a World Cup game in Guadalajara, Mexico back in 1970, the talent-laden Brazilians—who had the legendary Pele playing in their team—beat the English 1-0. Since then, succeeding English teams had always dreamed of being the squad that would avenge this unforgettable loss to the Brazilians.

David Beckham’s boys look like they have the best chances of finally breaking the 30-year old Brazilian jinx, if any England side is ever going to do it. Beckham, the larger-than-life footballing husband of former Spice Girl Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, and his team have played incredibly well in this tournament, defying predictions that as with England teams of the recent past, they too will fade away well before the championship game begins.

Beckham’s team bears many similarities to the 1970 squad of the two Bobbies—Moore and Charlton—that played creditably against the formidable team led by the great Pele. Like their esteemed elders, they have shown in their previous games that they are tenacious at defense, allowing one of the lowest opposing team goal totals in this tournament so far—one. More importantly, they can score.

After a lackluster 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening match, and an even slower 0-0 draw with African runners-up Nigeria, they finally let the scoring salvo loose in their 3-0 drubbing of Denmark, the side that bid au revoir to the “repeat” dreams of defending champions France.

But technically comparable they may be, the similarities end there. England v. Brazil in 1970 was a black and white game literally, with the dark-skinned Brazilians playing against the pale-faced Englishmen. Today, if Beckham’s men did not wear the red and white colors to distinguish them from the yellow and green jerseys of Brazil, he would not know where to direct his lethal passes from mid-field.

In terms of racial mix, this team has come a long way. Five of the top players in Sven Goran Eriksson’s lineup are either black or mixed race in origin. Not so in 1970. Come to think of it, the new heavyweight champion of the world is British. And by the way, he is black too!

England is not alone in recognizing the wisdom of opening its team to “non-conventional” players. Sweden’s lethal striker that almost took them to the quarterfinals is Henrik Larsson, whose complexion is a number of shades darker than Bjorn Borg’s. Even Denmark, the team of blonde and blue-eyed Viking descendants, had a few dark- skinned players donning its jersey.

But the best example of all is the ousted defending champions France, whose multi-ethnic team led by Algerian-French midfielder Zinedine Zidane was vigorously disowned by the French rightist politician Jean Marie Le Pen as being “foreign.”

The World Cup is a good venue to watch multi-racial integration in action, with only the Asian teams of China, Japan and South Korea, and the Africans all looking ethnically similar. Gone were the days when most European teams would have made Hitler proud. Today, in their pursuit of excellence and the elusive cup, they have learned to recognize talent that is not merely skin-deep.

European fans, greatly appreciating the contribution of their not-so-similar looking “countrymen” in their quest for glory, do not seem to mind at all. As long as they do their share for the team, they are more than welcome.

IMMIGRATION. This is the message that many European countries are trying to get across to the multitudes of would-be immigrants to their countries. As long as they are good team players (integrate and disseminate, learn the language), score their fair share of goals (obtain gainful employment) and refrain from dysfunctional behavior (stay away from crime, drug abuse), the welcome mat will be rolled out to them.

Far from being inhumane and cruel, this expectation is clearly a justifiable one. Immigration is essentially an economic transaction—people move across borders to fill the employment needs in places that require their skill. As long as this logic is observed, there should be no problems.

It is when the cunning and the sly end up upsetting this equilibrium that problems start to happen.

Imagine if the England team did not have access to the best players for its line-up because certain pretenders had already forced their way into the squad, without possessing the requisite talent for the game? The team’s morale would be upset, would it not? It would likely be full of resentment, and its players might even refuse to do their best for the country.

The tide of human migration is unstoppable, but its logic should not be perverted and abused.

Legitimate asylum seekers aside, only those with valuable contributions to their new teams (destination countries) should be welcomed. Otherwise, like the England teams of the past, their new hosts would always be left wondering what it would have been like, had they been allowed to choose only the best players for their sides.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 22, 2002 (

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