Monday, 15 Apr 2024

N’Golo Kante, Mesut Ozil, and the Power of Belonging

n'golo kante ethnicity

Earlier this month, France celebrated its second ever World Cup victory, capturing the attention of football fans worldwide. However, it wasn’t just their triumph on the field that garnered attention. The multicultural background of the French team, with 15 out of 23 players of African descent, symbolized a momentary victory over the challenges faced by people of color in European societies.

N’Golo Kante, born to Malian parents and raised in the Paris suburbs, became a shining example of success. From collecting litter to help his family, he rose to become a key player in the French team, driving them to victory. But let’s not make the mistake of placing citizenship on the pedestal of extraordinary achievements.

In contrast to the celebration of French multiculturalism, German midfielder Mesut Ozil’s experience exposed the harsh reality faced by players of immigrant background. Ozil, also born in Europe to immigrant parents, announced his retirement from the German national team due to the racism he endured from the German Football Association, segments of the media, and some fans.

Ozil’s Turkish heritage became a target of criticism after Germany’s early exit from the World Cup. Despite his impressive career and numerous achievements, he was singled out and faced racial subtext in the comments. This treatment sent a clear message to the German-Turkish community that acceptance into German society came with the expectation of abandoning their ancestral roots.

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It’s important to understand the significance of Ozil challenging this racist status quo. The German Football Association has shown a lack of political neutrality, with its president holding views against immigrants, multiculturalism, and Islam. The contrast between how Ozil and other German players of immigrant background are treated highlights a double standard that cannot be ignored.

Sadly, this mistreatment is not unique to Ozil. Across Europe, professional football players of immigrant background face fan abuse and intense media scrutiny on a regular basis. However, Ozil’s retirement decision resonated deeply, as he courageously stood up against racism and discrimination in the sport.

In the face of relentless hostility, Ozil made it clear that enough is enough. He refused to accept racism and vowed to take action. His statement reflects years of questioning his identity and the inclusivity of German society. On-the-field success can never fully resolve the internal conflicts caused by discrimination.

The World Cup is not just about showcasing footballing talent; it also sheds light on the progress within the societies that produce these athletes. It reveals the dark corners we don’t always see, highlighting the need for change and fostering a sense of belonging for all players, regardless of their background.


Q: How many players in the French World Cup squad are of African descent?
A: Out of the 23 players, 15 are of African descent.

Q: What is N’Golo Kante’s background?
A: N’Golo Kante’s parents emigrated from Mali, and he grew up in the Paris suburbs.

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Q: Why did Mesut Ozil retire from the German national team?
A: Mesut Ozil retired due to the racism he faced from the German Football Association, media, and some fans.

Q: How did the treatment of Ozil differ from other German players with immigrant backgrounds?
A: Ozil’s Turkish heritage was specifically targeted, highlighting a double standard in the treatment of players with immigrant backgrounds.

Q: What did Ozil hope to achieve with his statement?
A: Ozil aimed to raise awareness of the racism and discrimination faced by players of immigrant background and to spark change within the sport.


N’Golo Kante and Mesut Ozil’s stories highlight the power of belonging in football. While Kante’s success showcased the triumph over adversity, Ozil’s retirement exposed the discrimination that players of immigrant background face. It is a reminder that the World Cup is not just a competition but a platform to shed light on societal progress. As football enthusiasts, let’s foster an inclusive and supportive environment for all players, embracing the diversity that makes the beautiful game truly beautiful.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.