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Obama cites France World Cup team as example of inclusivity at Mandela speech

More than half of France’s starting 11 in the 2018 World Cup final were first- or latter-generation immigrants. (Getty)

Former U.S. President Barack Obama cited the French national team that recently won the 2018 World Cup as an example of the power of inclusivity in his first major post-presidency speech on Tuesday.

Obama, speaking at an event in South Africa marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, used the multicultural French squad, composed of predominantly first- and latter-generation immigrants, to reinforce Mandela’s “principle that we are bound together by a common humanity.”

“It is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation,” Obama said. “And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people. And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup.

“Because not all of those folks – not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French. They’re French.”

“Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities,” Obama continued. “Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage.”

In a way, France did just that. In the wake of its World Cup triumph, many have lauded the French team’s diversity and multicultural makeup – its refusal to discriminate based on race, religion or ethnicity; its willingness to incorporate players of all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds in order to broaden its talent pool and build a roster capable of conquering all comers.

That 23-man roster featured immigrants and the sons and grandsons of immigrants, players of Congolese and Haitian and Catalan and Martiniquais and Guinean and Nigerian and Italian and Cameroonian and Algerian and Mauritanian and Portuguese and Senegalese and Malian and Togolese and German and Angolan and Zairian and Moroccan and Filipino descent.

On Tuesday, Obama hailed Les Bleus diversity more eloquently and powerfully than anybody else could have.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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