The Dutch national under-17 soccer team is kicking-off in the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Saturday in Mexico. The squad is more multicultural than ever. The players are a positive force for the acceptance and integration of ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. They are “14 times more effective than all the integration projects”.
It has long been impossible to imagine the Dutch national squad without footballers from the Surinamese or Moroccan immigrant communities, but the under-17 team is even more ethnically diverse. It includes young men whose ethnic roots are Dutch, Bosnian, Surinamese, Antillean, Moroccan, Tunisian, Congolese, Ghanaian, Angolan and Ivorian.
FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011
The 14th FIFA World Cup for national under-17 teams is being held in Mexico from 18 June to 10 July. The 24 countries taking part are divided into six groups. The Netherlands is in Group A with Mexico, North Korea and Congo. The Dutch side’s first match is against Congo on Saturday 18 June in Morelia. On Tuesday 21 June, they will play North Korea at the same venue. Their last group game is in Monterrey on Friday 24 June against host nation Mexico.
Mohammed Allach is a former professional footballer and founder of the MaroquiStars organisation which works to improve the image of vulnerable groups within society. He says the present U-17 squad mirrors contemporary Dutch society well. He believes the immigrant players play an important part as role models for their communities.
“If you had had 14 times as many integration projects in the last decade, they still wouldn’t outweigh the effect of Khalid Boulahrouz or Ibrahim Afellay wearing orange shirts and playing for the Dutch national team.”
The Dutch U-17 squad is a display of successful teamwork. The players’ common passion is football and, according to Allach, ethnic background plays no part in that. Soccer journalist Henk Spaan:
“When you’re being trained as a player, you’re colour-blind. Ethnicity really doesn’t matter to the boys themselves. They’re already second or third generation immigrants in the Netherlands. Their roots have long since ceased to be a dividing line.”
Having said that, players from similar backgrounds still have something extra in common.
“Players with Turkish, Moroccan or Surinamese roots have common ground they really want to share. I think you’re always going to see that,” says Allach
Off the pitch, however, U-17 squad players from immigrant backgrounds have to live in the Netherlands of Geert Wilders and his populist Freedom Party. On the street, where they’re not always recognised as potential star footballers, life can be different from when they’re playing for the Netherlands. Allach doesn’t see this as a problem.
“I believe they’re from a more confident generation and aren’t too worried what people think. They are potential top players. And a very important characteristic of top players is that they believe in themselves. They stand their ground despite the fact that so many people have an opinion about them. That’s the advantage they have over their contemporaries who have no public platform on which to excel.”
At the end of the day, there’s nothing so unifying for a society as success – especially national football victories. As far as that goes, the Dutch U-17 squad may provide us with a good summer. Last month, they became European U-17 champions and so have form to defend.
Spaan: “The Dutch were clearly the best side. The competition in Mexico with the seasoned South Americans and Africans is definitely at a level higher. But they should make it to the semi-finals.”