Why this story matters:
Since 2014, there's been an upsurge in support for the national football team "the Red Devils".
This has come as a surprise in strongly divided Belgium, where national identity is very weak and "societal integration" is a daily flashpoint.
The team is still in the running for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and coverage shows that for this generation of international soccer players, diversity is an asset rather than a liability.
Diversity in Belgium has a checkered history. Local governments are rarely equipped to engage with minority groups, whether they are Muslim or Hasidic. And on a cultural level things are not always easy either, such as when a Muslim-run soccer club caused controversy by banning alcohol. Given the complexity of the super-diverse Belgian society, role models like Hazard, Benteke, Fellaini and Januzaj are essential.
Of course, friendship might not be enough for the Red Devils to win the World Cup, but still, Belgians will be full of hope, whatever their color or background.
Details from the story:
- There used to be a considerable gap between Belgium's French- and Dutch-speaking players, but former coach Marc Wilmots insisted on bridging the gap. With new coach Roberto Martinez, the integration continues.
- The friendship between the stars of the team -- whether they are white, black or Muslim -- is real. People notice their spontaneous way of relating to one another.
- Neither culture nor religion is an issue: Mousa Dembélé, for example, takes out the Quran whenever he can and prays before every match, but nobody criticizes him.
- The recent success of the extreme-right party FN (Front National) shows that it is harder to keep camaraderie and unity alive once people are off the playing field.