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What football teaches us about migration
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool being fouled during the Champions League Final

What football teaches us about migration

By International Organization for Migration
Jun 26, 2018 (IOM) – Football is more than just a popular sport in many societies. Regardless of origin, social class or skin colour, if there is any sport that can give one a sense of identity and belonging, it is this one. It doesn’t matter if it is played with a proper ball or a recycled bottle; when a player scores, everyone shouts “GOAL” with the same level of emotion!Football is not only entertainment that moves the masses: it is a game that awakens passions and contrasts all around the world. The FIFA World Cup is the best example — for weeks the whole world turns its attention to the games. But we rarely think about the fact that the vast majority of players on the filed are migrants in their professional careers.
In the Mesoamerican region, the national teams of Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama are participating in the 2018 World Cup. Of the 69 players representing these three teams, 46 are migrants. FIFA 2017 statistics revealed that 55% of players belonged to a club outside their country of citizenship. More than 90% of the players of the national teams of Colombia, Belgium, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland played for a club abroad and of the 100 best players in 2017, 72 were migrants.
Seeing the sport through this perspective can inform a more comprehensive and less stereotyped view of migration. Migration enriches our societies; soccer is an example of this. How many times have the Spaniards of Barcelona celebrated a goal thanks to an Argentine players? How many Costa Ricans questioned who scored in Brazil 2014 was born in Nicaragua? How many times has football helped us stop seeing labels
In spite of the fact that racism and xenophobia have taken place in soccer contexts, it’s better to think of it as a tool to unite and not an occasion to discriminate. As something that aids in the integration of people and the creation of links with the communities, football is a platform for promoting human rights. Common interests and values can be shared through sport by encouraging intercultural dialogue and strengthening tolerance among players and fans.
You can read more stories about sports, migration, and integration on the IOM-supported platform i am a migrant: “Together Through Sport”.
Tatiana Chacón Salazar is a Communication Specialist at IOM Costa Rica. She has worked as a communication consultant in different public and private organizations on issues of environment, gender and migration.