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In 2014, the World Cup Will Be Won By…Migrants!

Christian Eigen-Zucchi's picture

The World Cup Football finals get underway in Brazil today – the long wait is over!  They mean many different things to the billions around the world who will come together to watch, evoking intense emotions of national pride and glory, or humiliation and outrage.  Goals and calls by referees are recalled decades later, hotly debated in a passion for the ‘beautiful game.’  One key aspect of this ultimate expression of globalization is that most of the players are migrants, either playing for their national teams while currently residing in another country (such as Lionel Messi, born in Argentina, living in Spain, and playing for Argentina), or playing for a national team different from their country of birth (such as Diego Costa, born in Brazil, living in Spain, and playing for Spain), or both (such as Miroslav Klose, born in Poland, living in Italy, and playing for Germany).

The Pew Research Center has assembled a wonderful article and infographic on where the stars of the 2014 World Cup play during the regular season (available here).  Their analysis indicates that 476 players (65 percent) out of the 736 players in Brazil as part of their national football squads spend the rest of the year playing for clubs outside of the countries they represent.  In the case of Bosnia and Herzogevina, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Uruguay, only one player in each of the 23 man squads plays in the countries they represent. 

Similarly, the Quartz digital news outlet published an insightful article highlighting that 78 players were born outside the countries they are representing in Brazil (available here).  The Algerian national team has 15 players born in France.  The Swiss national team has 6 players who were born outside the country, where recent election results have turned distinctly anti-immigration. 

The relevant eligibility criteria on the acquisition of new nationalities of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are in Article 7 of their statutes (available here),which says that players can take on new nationalities and be eligible to play if they have not played for another national team, and fulfill one of the conditions below:

 (a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(d) He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.


Whatever the criteria, in all likelihood, these players are migrating by choice, as well as safely and legally, thereby realizing their dreams.  Pew calls them “elite labor migrants.’  The extraordinary access and mobility afforded by their special talents serves to highlight what migration can be, and the situations of millions less fortunate.  The football stars gracing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil are playing for all migrants across the planet - what a celebration it will be.

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