All Day, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eder, Soccer, UEFA Euro 2016 -

UEFA’s Euro 2016 final was blacker than ever Which is no surprise, considering who hosted it

All Day, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eder, Soccer, UEFA Euro 2016 -

UEFA’s Euro 2016 final was blacker than ever Which is no surprise, considering who hosted it

When Éder came on for Renato Sanches for Portugal in the 79th minute of Sunday’s match against France in Saint-Denis, it was clear: This was the blackest UEFA European Championships final we’ve ever seen. One dreadlocked brother came on for another, and the latter scored the goal that won the tournament.

Between the two sides, they fielded 18 black players, which isn’t counting Dimitri Payet — who was born on the French island of Réunion, off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. There are three reasons for this: colonialism, globalization and FIFA itself. For decades, both nations’ history as colonial powers served as a recruiting tool for sports, particularly soccer. Over the years, that fact has sparked discussion about conflicting concepts of nationalism with certain nations.

How French is France is the basic question. With people calling it the “French National Team of Africa” and various other snide monikers, other nations with less inviting immigration situations have long called the practice unfair, to an extent. Take Denmark, for example, where a far-right political party posted messages referring to Europe as “Africa’s backyard.

Alternately, some people in France, particularly players, have used it as a rallying cry. In 2013, Nike released a version of the French away jersey with the phrase, “nos differences nous unissent,” sewn into them, which means, “our differences unite us.” Over the past 20 years, the French team has gone from looking like the main cast of the 1995 movie La Haine, starring Vincent Cassel, Said Taghmaoui and Hubert Koundé, to a far blacker, immigrant melange.

Though eight of 11 of France’s black players (again, not including Payet) were born in France, many of them are first-generation Europeans, who have parents from the vast expanse of nations and territories that France colonized over the years: Senegal, Guinea, Guadeloupe and Mali. Three players were born in the Congo, Senegal and Cameroon. France’s Samuel Umtiti actually grew up in Angola, before moving to Toulouse, France. Portugal’s roster includes two players born in Guinea-Bissau, one in Cape Verde and another in Angola. Looking back, Eusebio, arguably the best player in Portugal’s history, was born in Mozambique.

More largely, though, FIFA in the past decade has loosened rules to make this easier for most nations. One need not necessarily have a history of invading and pillaging in order to draw from a wider field to naturalize into your roster pool anymore. Now, you can play for more than one team at the youth level, and if a relative as distant as a grandparent is from the nation you wish to play for, you can.

As an example, take Belgian midfielder Adnan Januzaj. When those rules changed in 2013, he became eligible to play for Belgium, Albania, Serbia, Turkey and Croatia. He chose Belgium, where he was born, a nation that also had one of the most diverse squads at this year’s Euros with nine black players.

The wave of immigrants coming from global tragedies pouring into Western Europe has likely forever changed what the so-called traditional faces of rosters look like. It’s already infiltrated the largest soccer nations. England has long been one of the more progressive rosters, and nations like Germany and Switzerland have been steadily diversifying as well. The next phase we’ll likely see this shift in is international basketball rosters.

That aside, when the preening peacock Cristiano Ronaldo left the game in the 25th minute, it was presumed that Portugal’s Seleção was doomed against Les Bleus. Instead, a man born in Africa changed that fate in extra time with what ultimately was the game-winning goal. Portugal manager Fernando Santos said of Éder after the match, “the ugly duckling scored — he is now a beautiful swan.”

A black swan, if you will.


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