Belgium's Red Devils rally a divided nation

Belgium's Red Devils rally a divided nation
By Euronews
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'It's more flags to support the Red Devils, to support the Belgian team more than supporting a nation'


The Belgium football team - playing England for the third place World Cup spot on Saturday - is bringing together fans from one of the least nationalist nations.

The Red Devils revving up a country with language and ethniciity differences.

"At the beginning of the 2000s, there were few Belgian teams qualifying, so there wasn't this passion. Where you see the flags, it's more flags to support the Red Devils, to support the Belgian team more than supporting a nation, which would be expecting success from its national team," explained David Jamar, a sociologist at the University of Mons in Belgium.

And you're unlikely to find many people in Belgium who think the Devils are uniting Belgium in any long-term way. The Flemish nationalist N-VA party hasn't exactly been throwing celebrations.

Jamar commented: "It is hard to imagine that the team can suddenly weld the nation. Moreover, the N-VA who is in government does not comment on these sports results, others try to comment on them. But in this regard I think political issues will pick up again."

Most of the Belgian team these days are globalised figures - having gone to other countries to hone their skills on the pitch. Belgium's current coach is Spanish.

"In a way related to Belgium, there is migration, that is to say there are people of immigrant background who are on the national team," said Jamar.

"The successes at the football level are rather exceptional successes compared to all the discriminations which can exist in the employment in Europe as in Belgium. So that represents something but in a distorted way."

But can the Belgian national team help to heal wider issues in society? Jamar says a lot depends on whether the opportunities are maximised.

"It will all depend on the way in which groups dealing with these issues of racism, who deal with these issues of discrimination will or may not be able to seize these opportunities, on this occasion, to possibly change things," he explained. 

"So grabbing it would mean paying close attention to the players themselves. That is to say the way in which they arrived despite the discriminations, including in the world of football, the way in which they arrived in the position in which they are. So if it's not there then it will just be a kind of symbol maybe a bit empty and a bit hollow."

Belgium has its divides, but it seems in a part of the world that's ripe with footballing success - skills and experience that it's sucked up to help make the Red Devils what they are today.

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