If there is a faint hope the world could be a better place, maybe France should win the World Cup over Croatia on Monday morning.

Why? The French team, perhaps more than any other at this tournament, embody the benefits of immigration in an increasingly isolationist world. Across Europe, far right and racist groups have been making hay while the twin beams of sunlight – terrorism and mass emigration – shine.

Countries like Poland and Hungary already have far right governments in power; the Poles are in the process of passing a nasty new law that anyone suggesting Poland's complicity in the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities from World War II could face fines or even imprisonment of up to three years.

The opportunists of the far right have pounced on terrorism and refugees from killing zones like Syria to take their populist xenophobia to new heights in many countries – Italy, the Netherlands, the UK (as what is Brexit but a tacit underlining of such things?). You can count the US in too, with their oddball President jogging alongside the far right bandwagon, hair flapping – though the US has maybe not yet quite combined the unlovely cocktail ingredients of neo-Nazis, stirred not shaken, with the free-market conservatives who have somehow normalised a dangerous ideology in Europe.


The Balkans, including Serbia and Croatia, still carry the scars of the ethnic wars of the 1990s and nationalist extremism is on the up. And, yes, France too has seen the rise and rise of the ugly far right.

Yet the French team, on the cusp of their second World Cup win, are the most visible illustration of immigrants enriching their adopted community.

France's Samuel Umtiti, second from left, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring. Photo / AP
France's Samuel Umtiti, second from left, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring. Photo / AP

No fewer than 17 of the 25 squad members were born elsewhere or have parents who emigrated to France. The electric Kylian Mbappe and defender Samuel Umtiti hail from the Cameroons; Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Blaise Matuidi are of Congolese stock. N'golo Kante, Moussa Dembele and Djibril Sidibe have Mali origins and others come from points as far flung as Zaire, the Philippines, Togo and Spain. The majestic Paul Pogba's family is from Guinea.

Even Antoine Griezmann, their iconic No. 7, has German and Portuguese parentage.

Contrast this with the dubious record of Croatia's fans in recent years. It is perhaps unfair to tar Croatian players with the same brush their far right fans use to paint others. But their fans who are racist have really made a good job of it.

Just this week, FIFA acknowledged it had secretly let Croatia off with a warning over fascist banners displayed by fans in their Group D opener against Nigeria. As reported by the Daily Telegraph, FIFA chose to keep quiet about it; a secret warning is the equivalent of a slap on the wrist with a soggy ant.

FIFA denied a cover-up, stating its regular announcements of such sanctions were focused on those "that resulted in fines", and a similar warning had also been issued over homophobic chanting by Australian fans during their opening match against France.

In October, Croatia were forced to play their opening Nations League game against England behind closed doors. That was because far right fans had defaced the pitch with a swastika in the Croatia v Italy European Championship qualifier, visible for the entire match – and that happened because fans were angry supporters were banned as punishment for Croatian racist chanting when their side played Norway previously.

Croatia's first two World Cup qualifiers for this World Cup were also played without fans after racist chanting in friendlies against Hungary and Israel. So it must have been a bit of a shock for Croatian players in Russia to find stadiums actually full of people.

The Croatian football body, the HNS, has been fined multiple times over racist and fascist flags at, for example, Euro 2016 and monkey chants aimed at black players. The drive to stamp out racism by the HNS might help but you wonder about effectiveness, given the Josip Šimunić affair. Fifa banned defender Šimunić for 10 matches in 2013 after directing Croatia supporters in fascist chants.

However, the HNS – whose president is the revered former World Cup forward Davor Šuker – called the punishment excessive and promptly appointed Šimunić as the then assistant manager of the national side.

Immigration is far from a perfect undertaking and constant calls championing diversity can sometimes have the opposite effect if overdone. But walk around Melbourne, New York, London, Paris, San Francisco and, yes, Auckland and see the benefits and colour immigrants bring.

Surely that is better than the views expressed by the 90-year-old veteran extremist, Jean-Marie Le Pen who said the multiracial team does not fit France's profile and that there are too many black players. In 2016, his granddaughter, Marion Le Pen, advised another French footballer, Karim Benzema, to go back to Algeria after he professed his love for his country of origin.

So a French win appeals rather more than a Croatian one. There is no hope, of course, that the result of a football match, on its own, will quell this kind of societal movement – fuelled by the sort of cynically applied political cant that has led the world to disaster before.

But the right result, gained by players with the ability to score a point as well as a goal, would still be satisfying and persuasive.

So…allez La France.