Switzerland is the most multicultural of all the 32 teams taking part in the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil. But are players like Shaquiri and Rodriguez a sign of Swiss integration or are immigrants just bigger football fans?
The name Haris Seferovic is now firmly lodged in the hearts and minds of all Swiss supporters after the striker came on last Sunday to score a dramatic last-gasp winner against Ecuador in Switzerland’s first game.
In 2009 Seferovic also made a name for himself when he scored the winning goal in the final of the U-17 World Cup against hosts Nigeria which put the Swiss team firmly on the international football map.
Seferovic was born in Switzerland after his Bosnian parents fled the violence in the Balkans at the end of the 1980s. He is one of the 15 out of 23 players in the Swiss squad who are of foreign origin.
A new infographic of World Cup players and their nationalities and family connections currently doing the rounds on the internet and social media shows that the Swiss team is the most cosmopolitan at the tournament. The graphic created by Australian designer James Offer shows that 15 Swiss players have 21 different family connections to other countries, ahead of Australia (18), Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and France (each with 16 connections).
Swiss team (and roots)
Diego Benaglio, Italian grandparents; Roman Bürki, Swiss; Yann Sommer, Swiss.
Philippe Senderos, Serbian and Spanish parents; Johan Djourou, born in Côte d’Ivoire; Michael Lang, Swiss; Fabian Schär, Swiss;
Stephan Lichtsteiner, Swiss; Steve von Bergen, Swiss; Reto Ziegler, Swiss; Ricardo Rodriguez, Chilian parents.
Tranquillo Barnetta, Italian-Swiss dual national; Valon Behrami, born in Kosovo; Blerim Dzemaili, born in Macedonia; Gelson Fernandes, born in Cape Verde; Gökhan Inler, Turkish parents;
Xherdan Shaqiri, born in Kosovo; Admir Mehmedi, born in Macedonia; Valentin Stocker, Swiss; Granit Xhaka, Albanian parents.
Haris Seferovic, Bosnian parents; Mario Gavranovic, Bosnian parents; Josip Drmic, Croatian parents.
Many of the Swiss squad are second-generation immigrants, who have at least one foreign parent. It’s not unusual for Swiss players to hold more than one passport such as Philippe Senderos who has Spanish and Serbian parents.
Sign of tolerance
Swiss captain Gökhan Inler is also a dual-national.
“I gave Gökhan Inler, a Turkish immigrant, the role of captain as I wanted to give more importance to the players of foreign origin. This diversity represents modern-day Switzerland and is a sign of tolerance. We are proud to show that the country can really integrate its foreigners,” national coach Ottmar Hitzfeld recently told the French TV channel Canal+.
Several of the national team players were born abroad. Bayern Munich star Xherdan Shaqiri was born in Kosovo and is not scared of showing off his family roots. When he scored in the World Cup qualifying rounds against Albania last year, Shaquiri decided not to celebrate out of respect.
This diversity in the national team is relatively recent. At the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Nestor Subiat, who had Argentinian parents, was the only naturalised foreign player in the Swiss team. In 2006 in Germany there were eight players of foreign origin.
Less identity-driven sport
So how exceptional is this and is it a model for successful integration?
Peter Gilliéron, president of the Swiss Football Association, seems to think so.
“I believe that in Switzerland there is no greater vector for integration than football. Over the past few decades immigrants have managed to get much closer to Swiss people thanks to playing football,” he told swissinfo.ch back in 2009.
Fabien Ohl, a sports sociologist at Lausanne Universtiy, is much more circumspect. He says the phenomenon is mainly the result of the social origins of the migrants and the sporting practices that are unique to Switzerland.
“In many other countries football is the leading sport. In Switzerland, however, it is in competition with ice hockey, alpine skiing and tennis. These sports are much more expensive to play and have a much stronger identity for the Swiss. They are not so easy for immigrants to break into so they turn to the easier football,” he explained.
Another reason, he said, is that football is considered by many young immigrants to be the best way of achieving success and social status.
“As the main figures playing football are often connected with immigration, it encourages young immigrant children to practise the sport,” he added. Out of the 250,000 football players officially registered in Switzerland, one third do not have a Swiss passport.
Players whose parents were immigrants are not scared of showing ambition or a desire to earn a high salary and to be successful on the pitch. Meanwhile, many Swiss youngsters, and their parents, prefer to concentrate on their studies or apprenticeships during their teenage years.
Result of mass immigration
Much of the success has also been due to the Swiss football association’s keen interest to quickly give players responsibilities in the national team, as well as their training system.
But in light of the recent anti-immigration vote in Switzerland on February 9 some observers sense a strange paradox.
Valon Behrami, a key member in Ottmar Hitzfeld’s squad in Brazil, has been a regular feature for the Swiss team since 2005.
At a press conference on Tuesday he talked about his Kosovar roots.
“The Swiss team, with all these different nationalities and mentalities, is not like any other. For me what is important is to be an example, an example to all Swiss people who, like me, come from elsewhere. I want to show them that we need to give back to this country everything it has given to us.
If I am a professional footballer today it’s because of the training I received in Switzerland. I respect Switzerland for what it has done for me. The question is not whether or not you sing the national anthem. The only way to do it is to give 100% on the pitch. This is the attitude I always want to have. If I had another approach I fear that young people who feel connected with me might have another too.
This country gave us the chance to reach this level. But there are moments in a game when your heart speaks to you. And the spirit of the place where you were born can also guide you."
Sources: ATS / Le Matin
“Let’s not forget that all these players are the result of ‘mass immigration’,“ wrote the Swiss online site journal21. “Their parents are from abroad, mainly non-EU states and fortunately they have brought their families with them to Switzerland. Otherwise these young players, some of who were born in Switzerland, may never have been discovered in their local football clubs.”
On his official visit to Brazil to support the Swiss team, Defence and Sports Minister Ueli Maurer was repeatedly asked about this by reporters.
“What does he think about this multicultural team which is so far from the stereotypes communicated by his party [the rightwing Swiss People’s Party?], pondered the Le Matin Dimanche newspaper.
“I don’t agree. The People’s Party has always been happy with foreigners who integrate and work for the good of Switzerland,” answered Maurer.
The footballer – a good migrant
Fabien Ohl is not that surprised by these kinds of arguments: “A footballer is often seen as a good migrant as he serves his country of origin and is the pride and joy of his host nation. On the other hand a foreigner who commits crimes or doesn’t have the same cultural habits as ours is seen in a very negative light. All these normal foreigners who are not especially brilliant or threatening, meanwhile, remain pretty invisible.”
However, we must be careful the whole thing doesn’t backfire, warned the sociologist.
“When a multicultural team is successful, everyone praises the diversity. But the moment any weaknesses appear or there is a poor performance or controversy, that’s when the differences are made to stand out. The French team [praised after winning the World Cup in 1998 then cast aside after a player strike in South Africa in 2010] is the perfect example,” he concluded.
(Translated from French by Simon Bradley)