ALPSIDE DOWNED: When politics is poured down the Cup

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews/18 July) – World Cup 2018 fever may have died down, but some controversies are lingering like a virus simply gone dormant.

Don’t think that the all-girl Russian punk band Pussy Riot made the only significant political statement in the month-long tourney. Four members of the group invaded the pitch during the cup final in Moscow on Sunday dressed in police uniforms. For their troubles, the girls will be jailed for 15 days and banned for 3 years from entering any football stadium in Moscow.

I’m sure Putin would have wanted to deal with them more severely. In 2012, three Pussy Riot members were arrested for performing an anti-Putin protest song in a central Moscow church. The three were arrested, subjected to “overcrowded conditions” in their transportation to their trial and later suffered “humiliation” by being permanently exposed in a glass dock. They were also given prison sentences that were exceptionally severe.

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday entered a decision condemning Russia for violating the band member’s human rights by subjecting them to degrading treatment, not providing a fair trial and not allowing them freedom of expression. The court also ordered Russia to pay the three feminists damage fees and for their legal expenses.

But unlike the Pussy Riot members who had to be chased all over the grass by security, it was the teams who were already making political statements when they sedately walked down the pitch.

Take France for example. Eighty percent of the players in the champion team are from Africa, and half of the team are Muslims, according to a post from Twitter.

Indeed. Names like Umtiti, Pogba, Matuidi, Kante, Dembele and Mbappe are clearly African, and speak proudly of their African ancestry. These top players came from migrant families, already making a statement on the current anti-immigrant hysteria that is being played up by politicians in Europe.

The Twitter post also twitted (the original meaning) American president Donald Trump and his controversial policy to build walls against future migrants to America. “Thanks to the French men for not building a wall,” went the post. Down it went to Trump like a goalie-less kick.

Political controversy also hit the Swiss team. Eight of the Swiss 11 have foreign roots, perhaps underscoring the fact that 20 percent (and growing) of Switzerland’s population of 8 million are already foreigners or have migrant backgrounds.

But the mainstay players Granit Xhaka and Sherdan Shaqiri were criticized for crossing their arms and displaying the “double-eagle” sign of their native Albania, following their euphoria over a goal against rival Serbia. A provocative political act, shouted the critics. But the team closed ranks behind its top players, with even the Swiss captain saying he sees no problem with how his teammates celebrate goals.

The players effectively closed the argument with this comment: “When the Nati (the national team) wins, we are Swiss. But when the Nati loses, we are (considered) foreigners”.

A minor right-wing Swiss politician then proposed – after the Swiss were knocked out of the elimination stages – that henceforth only 100%  Swiss players should compose the Nati. But his proposal was quickly booted out on social media. One of the oft-repeated arguments on this topic:  If you took out the dual citizens from the team, then Switzerland had just seen its last world cup. Game over.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for the SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He  is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)