Netherlands vs. Spain: The Immigrant Question

Both La Furia Roja and the Oranje will kit up for a shot at their first ever World Cup titles and it’s hard to tell who might emerge the winner. With both teams never having won the World Cup before, they will be going after the trophy with an equally bloodthirsty zeal. With both teams in peak form, a comparison of their form stacks up pretty evenly too – both won all their qualifying matches for the World Cup, and David Villa and Wesley Sneijder are currently tied for the tournament’s Golden Boot award (although Sneijder has committed 13 fouls in the course of the tournament, while Villa has just two fouls to his name).

Tough to tell who will win? Well, it’s equally tricky to say who I’ll be cheering for come Sunday evening in the spirit of Who Should I Cheer For? – both countries stack up evenly against one another in the statistics as well. While Netherlands does well to set aside over 0.7% of its GDP for aid, Spain has the highest degree of gender equality in government, with 50% of its leadership undertaken by women. If we examine these countries beyond the WSICF? rankings, both countries have an illustrious colonial history as well – both nations had expansive and prosperous empires up until the 20th century. How did these colonial pursuits play out, and what socio-economic legacies have they left in the two countries today?

Both the Dutch and Spanish empires spanned the globe, and resulted in eras of great economic and social growth. However, the process of empire building was inevitably problematic and exploitative. The Spanish infamously brought smallpox and famine to the indigenous populations they colonised, as well as brutal slavery in the plantations and mines whose bounty fuelled their prosperity. Colonial rule under the Dutch was considerably less cruel than under the Spanish, primarily because they occupied their lands primarily through means of strategic trading posts, and commerce treaties. Indeed, the Dutch East India Company (the world’s first multinational corporation) was an unparalleled commercial force, particularly in Asia where the Spice Islands and Indonesia provided numerous export and trading opportunities.

Interestingly, the ancestors of the Oranje are also responsible for the initial conception of modern development policy. Primarily focused on the Dutch East Indies, or modern day Indonesia, this policy recognised the moral imperative to improve the material well-being of the lands from which it had gained such great riches. By introducing education, irrigation technology and transmigration to reduce population pressure on certain areas, the Dutch sought to improve the lives of the people without the over-arching imperatives of culture transfer or recruiting “brown Dutchmen” to aid the Dutch settlers. Despite the fact that this policy came up against significant budget constraints and internal opposition, the intention of the policy was undeniably noble.

Centuries later, how has the dynamic between the Netherlands, Spain and the ex-empire played out? As with the rest of the Western world, both countries are struggling with the multiculturalism and diversity that result from the global migration of people and ideas. On one hand, the immigration pol¬icies that both countries enforce have been the subject of much scrutiny and criticism; on the other, both countries have been subject to violent attacks by people from various immigrant communities.

The 2004 attacks on Madrid’s trains during peak hour left almost 200 people dead, and another 1,800 wounded. When a group of Moroccan terrorists were convicted for the bombings, a wave of Islamophobia swept the nation, putting the already-marginalised Moroccan community in a weakened, powerless position. In a country that has a staunchly Catholic tradition, the Moroccan Muslim community has been characterised by low-skilled labour, a struggle for economic survival, and largely low levels of education amongst the community. In a recent report by Human Rights Watch, incidents of Spain deporting illegal, unaccompanied Moroccan children back across the Straits of Gibraltar into detention centres that leave them open to abuse and exploitation has attracted much international criticism. While it’s no justification for terrorism, the uncertain, insecure and impoverished circumstances low-skilled migrants from Spain’s ex-colonies live in is certainly a fertile breeding ground for resentment against the Spanish.

Netherland’s struggle with multiculturalism and the influx of immigrants from the developing world – countries such as Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia – has also resulted in several controversial outcomes, such as a overseas integration test (that immigrants from the European Economic Area and other prosperous nations such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States do not have to take), which examines factors such as language proficiency and the ability of migrants to support themselves. This discriminatory test makes it very difficult for the families of poor migrants to join them in the Netherlands. In a nation whose respect for love and family life has made it amongst the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, this denial of the right to family life for certain migrants seems particularly ironic.

Against a backdrop of violent riots by minority migrant communities in nearby France, as well as high rates of unemployment and immigrant crime reported within Dutch borders, the political tide is shifting towards anti-immigrant legislation and perhaps more importantly, towards hateful and resentful attitudes towards existing communities. Of course, the counter-reaction of these communities only complicates matters further. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Moroccan immigrant following the production of Submission, a film that accuses Islam of great cruelty and injustice towards women exemplifies this perfectly. The medium of filmmaking has also been used by the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The anti-Islam sentiments portrayed in his 2008 film Fitna are also echoed in his broader political rhetoric against Muslim immigration into the Netherlands.

Indeed, it’s not difficult to see that migrant disenfranchisement and strict, conservative immigration policies in both Spain and Holland are simply two stages in what seems to be an endless, vicious cycle. One must acknowledge that the situations in these countries are underpinned by broader economic, political and social problems. Questioning how just immigration policies in the Netherlands and Spain is looking at only one side of the coin – what can be done to stem the exodus from unfavourable circumstances in these migrants’ home countries? Issues of migrant rights, the security and safety of a nation and the socio-economic welfare of a country’s citizens are inextricably tangled up with the broader global problems of exploitative and violent colonial legacies, a global tide of religious fundamentalism and its equally problematic counter-measures by Western governments.

It’s hard to say, then, who I’ll be cheering for in this World Cup final. Spain has been a long-standing personal favourite, and I’m reluctant to support Netherlands against them. So I’ll be cheering for a fair, exciting and high-scoring game, for the safeguarding of the rights of the most disenfranchised inhabitants of these countries, and for the gradual, peaceful resolution of the economic, political and religious tensions fragmenting both nations today.

Posted in: Netherlands, Netherlands-Spain, Spain

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Côte d’Ivoire v Portugal: the football traffickers

Côte d’Ivoire is a favoured Who Should I Cheer For? underdog. A quarter of the population lives below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day. Water and electricity are scarce. Life expectancy is 47 years.

At the same time Portugal is objectionable in a number of ledgers: ungenerous aid; few women in government; Cristiano Ronaldo.

But, as they say, the game isn’t played on paper. World Cup success for the Côte d’Ivoire could have a perversely unjust impact on poor West Africans by stimulating the growth of so-called ‘football trafficking’.

When Ivorians watch their captain, Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, lead out the Elephants on Tuesday they will see a role model in the fullest sense. Despite prohibitive odds, many young men consider their best chance of escaping poverty as following in Drogba’s footsteps.

So it is that thousands of unlicensed football academies have been set up in the Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana over the last decade.

Those in charge promise expert coaching, transport to Europe and arranged trials with elite professional clubs; local parents often reason that the fees are worth the sacrifice and take their sons out of school. In reality few ‘academy’ players will ever leave Africa and those that do will be travelling illegally with negligible prospect of professional football.

An overwhelming majority of academy operatives have no serious credentials. They cannot prepare their apprentices adequately or fulfil promises of trials with AC Milan and Paris St Germain. The crisis is compounded by unscrupulous agents and clubs, who take promising youngsters to Europe with no serious safety net in the (highly likely) event of their not making the grade.

The effects of the trafficking are evident to charities across West Africa and Europe. Foot Solidaire, a small Paris-based NGO, sees hundreds of abandoned would-be footballers in the French capital alone. In 2008 a BBC special report highlighted a typical trafficking story: the family of a 13-year-old Cameroonian paid €750 to an agent, travelled to Lyon and were abandoned on arrival. The previous year a leaking fishing trawler was beached in Tenerife containing 130 young African men suffering hypothermia and dehydration, among them footballers trying to reach Real Madrid.

FIFA promises it is “working hard” to address the issue. President Sepp Blatter has decried the trade in African teen footballers as “social and economic rape” and action has been promised under their ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ initiative, which aims to position the World Cup as a force for good on the continent.

Unfortunately FIFA’s corporate responsibility record is dismal with football trafficking no exception. Charities lobby in hope rather than expectation and counter-measures are few.

Foot Solidaire recently lamented in an open letter “ten years of hypocrisy, immobility and what may seem to be discrimination towards us”. They want to disseminate information across West Africa on the dangers of illegal academies but cannot get FIFA support for an annual €200,000 budget. They believe that the governing body discriminates against African groups in its funding, making a mockery of ‘Win in Africa with Africa’.

Certainly FIFA is not short of money for its preferred projects and partners. On Friday they opened the tournament with an announcement of US$196million annual profit and $1billion equity. Yet one month ago a report by South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies showed that the nation’s poorest may end up worse off (PDF) as a result of the World Cup.

This ongoing crisis gives pause for thought ahead of Tuesday’s game. The limitations of our rankings are clear. Ivorian success would doubtless feed the cycle of exploitation that blights football in West Africa. Foot Solidaire fears an increase in trafficking after the tournament.

The match itself threatens to be what some English Premier League mangers call ‘a damp squid’. At the draw in December this looked the tie of the first round – arguably the strongest two unseeded teams pitted against one another and in the same group as Brazil.

But both are on a downward trajectory. This Côte d’Ivoire team has been called (albeit wrongly) the greatest Africa has produced but they are ageing and blighted by internal conflict. Drogba enjoys an unhealthy cult of personality in the squad and new coach Sven-Göran Eriksson is an odd choice on a HPI-busting daily wage of £22,000.

Portugal meanwhile boast an unlikely double: both a weaker coach and a more narcissistic and irritating captain than their rivals. Carlos Queiroz and Ronaldo (named after President Reagan, of all people) scarcely deserved their qualification and hardly merit the favouritism afforded by the bookmakers for this game.

It is difficult to get away from supporting the Côte d’Ivoire against Portugal and World Cup success would doubtless be great for national morale. But it may be a Pyrrhic victory for a majority of young Ivorian footballers until information about illegal academies and their consequences improves.

Posted in: Cote d'Ivoire, Cote d'Ivoire-Portugal, Portugal

Peter May is the author of The Rebel Tours: Cricket's Crisis of Conscience, the 2009 book that achieved critical praise and commercial indifference.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Serbia v Ghana: European pariah vs top dog of the under dogs

I am a soft touch when it comes to underdogs: I wear a badge that says: ‘I heart migrants‘; I buy the Big Issue; and I work for the World Development Movement to combat the injustice that is rife through out the world. And now I am faced with a choice between Ghana – the top dog of the underdogs according to Who Should I Cheer For?; and Serbia – the country that shot to fame in the 1990s as an international pariah. So for most people, the choice of which team to cheer for based on ‘underdog’ criteria would be simple. For me, not so simple.

But life, politics and war is never simple. Let me announce my bias: my father’s family is from Serbia, from a city called Kragujevac, which is known for a massacre of up to 5000 people in 1941 at the hands of the Nazis. My grandfather fled the country and walked across Europe with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Massacres and deeply held resentments have been prominent in the former Yugoslavia’s turbulent history for centuries and the war crimes that took place at the hands of the Serbs in the 1990s are clear to everyone. And now to the Serbs themselves, who because of the propaganda pedalled by Milosevic and the closure of independent media, did not know of the true extent of the genocidal war that was being waged in their name.

But what they did know is that they were under attack from sanctions, from NATO bombing and economic collapse. By the year 2000, Serbia was the poorest country in Europe. It was the year that I went to visit my family in Kragujevac and saw the embarrassment and anger in my cousin’s face when admitted that she had been ‘paid’ in eggs that week.

This was also the year that Milosevic was finally forced from power.  The Milosevic regime’s tactics to stay in power were violent and omnipotent, including hundreds of thousands of fake ballot papers, the arrest, detention and ‘diasppearances’ of journalists, opposition activists and judges who sympathised with the opposition. One judge was murdered when he refused to issue an arrest warrant for two opposition leaders. And the disappearance and death of Ivan Stambolic, the former Prime Minister, who turned against Milosevic and gave support to the leader of the opposition party, Vojislav Kostunica.

Kostunica was leading a shakey coalition of 18 opposition parties, and despite Milosevic’s repression, they organised election monitors, mobililsed people, and collaborated with the powerful student movement, Otpor.  After the contested election of September 2000, a month of mass strikes and one million people descended on Belgrade from across the country, including elderly  farmers on tractors and bulldozers. They broke through police lines and faced tear gas and stormed parliament forcing Milosevic’s resgination on October 5th.

The last decade has not been easy for Serbs. The chasm between the rich and the poor has widened. Although, there’s no data available in government numbers for the clever people behind to crunch, inequality has increased after the IMF imposed its usual draconian economic conditions, like privatisation of electricty, education and health care, in return for loans.

The poorest people in Serbia (and Eastern Europe) who have suffered greatly are the Roma population. Roma people are widely discriminated against, are the target of racist attacks and fail to access public services. Currently, in Serbia the situation of Roma people is particularly worrying with 30 per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day; entire communities unable to access health care, education and live in shanty towns. It’s my bet that data for the Roma population is not included in official government stats, because Roma people tend not to have birth certificates, ID or permanent addresses. If the stats for Roma people were available to us the maternal mortality, hunger and life expectancy results would be a lot worse.

So I will be cheering for Serbia: for the Roma people – the underdogs of Europe; for the Serbs who bravely and peacefully overthrew a genocidal dictator; and for my family, and all families, who are still struggling to get by.

p.s. Amnesty International is running a campaign to stop forced evictions of Roma communities in Serbia, please do get involved.

The symbol of Otpor's resistance against the Milosevic regime, it appeared in badges, stickers, posters, banners, graffiti, t-shirts and as a tattoo on my colleague, James' arm!

Posted in: Ghana, Global injustice, Serbia, Serbia-Ghana, Teams, Who am I cheering for?

Kate is WDM's press officer and is currently trying to get journalists to love as much as we do! This project has made her realise that her penchant for revolution and the use of tractors in demonstrations is in her genes. She is cheering for Serbia.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Team-by-team: Groups C & D

Group C


An overdue return for the Desert Foxes, whose best-known World Cup moment was as victims of the notorious Austro-West German stitch-up in 1982. Armchair psychologists looking for wider significance in this campaign see them as the Arab world’s only representatives – and drawn against the USA. But Algerians consider their greatest rivalries with neighbours Egypt (whom they defeated in a spectacularly ill-tempered qualifying showdown) and former colonial masters France (who are potential quarter-final opponents). We rank Algeria 22nd, a distant fifth of six African countries, not least due to high military spending.


The Three Lions have perhaps their weakest squad since failing to qualify in 1994. But in that time they have had nine managers and Fabio Capello has won more honours than the rest put together. Much depends on the pragmatic Italian, who is on record as an admirer of Francisco Franco and Silvio Berlusconi. Certainly he will envy their media control if his men bow out early and the tabloids go rabid. England is as low as 27th in our rankings thanks to high carbon emissions, military spending and inequality.


Slovenia are at their third major tournament in eight years, a remarkable achievement for a nation of just two million, after defeating Russia in a David-and-Goliath play-off. Among the most prosperous and stable of all post-Soviet states, there is marked inequality across such a small country from the wealthy north west, which borders Austria and Italy, to the poor south east, next to Croatia and Hungary.


One of only seven teams at their sixth successive World Cup, the US are overdue to make serious progress. To this end they may benefit from familiarity with altitude after regular trips to Mexico and last year’s Confederations Cup. The Obama effect may be enough for the Nobel committee but it has no effect on the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings, which rates the US as the least supportable of all 32 nations due to their combination of wealth, high military spending and rampant inequality.

Group D


A second successive World Cup appearance for the Socceroos but without the guidance of former coach Guus Hiddink they are expected to struggle. Australia’s famously sport-centric culture extends to immigration policy, where the citizenship test asks ‘Who was the greatest cricketer of the 1930s?’. In 2008 the new left-centre government reasoned that the question was biased against many new immigrants and moved to scratch it – only for a populist outcry to force a climb-down. (It’s Donald Bradman, FYI)


‘They are good, these Africans!’ hollered a startled John Motson in 2006 as the Black Stars progressed at the expense of more fancied Czech Republic and USA. Runners-up in January’s Africa Cup of Nations, they look likely to invite more European condescension although the magnificent Michael Essien has withdrawn injured. Ghana tops our rankings as the most supportable team. It’s a poor country with a lot of hunger, and across all factors only scores badly on maternal mortality.


‘This is not a great German team’ is the pundit’s biennial refrain and that has probably been true back to their last World Cup win at Italia ’90 (or, to a certain anti-German mindset, their first in 1954). But in the noughties ungreat German teams have managed two major finals and a further semi-. That other ubiquitous cliché – ‘Never write off the Germans’ – is probably more apt even without their captain Michael Ballack. Our rankings place them 9th overall, reflecting their commitment to equality both in income distribution and opportunities for women.


Serbia qualified comfortably ahead of France under veteran coach Raddy Antic, formerly of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Luton Town. This is their first World Cup as an independent nation after regular appearances within Yugoslavia before 2002 and as Serbia & Montenegro in 2006. Battling high unemployment in the wake of the global recession and overcoming turbulent internal politics, 6% of the Serbian population is chronically hungry despite its upper-middle global income and advantageous trading position between Europe and Russia.

Posted in: Algeria, Australia, England, Germany, Ghana, Group previews, Serbia, Slovenia, USA

Peter May is the author of The Rebel Tours: Cricket's Crisis of Conscience, the 2009 book that achieved critical praise and commercial indifference.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

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