World Cup and xenophobia (or lack of it) in Singapore

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By Michael Y.P. Ang

No country is immune to xenophobia, and it is unlikely to disappear as long as human nature is what it is. The issue is whether xenophobia is so widespread that it impedes the healthy functioning of a country.

Certain Singaporeans seem determined to depict Singapore as having a major problem with xenophobia. Such a portrayal, however, serves no positive purpose. I cannot help but wonder if some of these Singaporeans have less-than-noble intentions, harping on a non-existent problem while calling other Singaporeans xenophobic.

Before one uses the X-word to describe people with less-liberal views on immigration, one should recall its meaning – an extreme or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.

There is no real evidence indicating a significant amount of xenophobia in Singapore. On the contrary, there is strong evidence suggesting the opposite.

Singaporeans’ adoration of foreigners

The World Cup allows a country to celebrate its nationhood while reinforcing its national identity on the global stage, especially when its team performs up to or above expectations.

Singaporeans’ support of various World Cup teams means they also rejoice in the strengthening of a foreign country’s national identity – hardly the action of xenophobes. Furthermore, celebrating a country’s national identity is akin to revelling in the spirit of its independence.

Anti-Filipino sentiment in S’pore and China’s anti-Japanese sentiment

There appears to be increasing anti-Filipino sentiment in Singapore, but this alone does not make Singapore xenophobic. While such intolerance should be condemned, it would be wise for the authorities to ascertain its cause in order to seek ways of mitigating the situation.

This reminds me of anti-Japanese sentiment, highly visible when China hosted the 2007 Women’s World Cup finals and the 2004 Asian Cup finals. Chinese fans refused to stand for Japan’s national anthem during pre-match ceremonies, and constantly jeered Japanese players while cheering on their opponents.

Does Chinese hatred of Japan make China a xenophobic country? Hardly. The hatred was directed at only Japanese, not all foreigners.

Reason: The Chinese view Japan as having failed to make proper atonement for their past war crimes in China.

Remedy: Japan should imitate Germany. The lack of harsh treatment of German athletes whenever they compete in formerly Nazi-occupied countries is due to Germany’s sincere remorse for Nazi war atrocities.

Anti-Salvadorean sentiment and the Football war

17 days after the third and decisive World Cup qualifier between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969, the Football War erupted between the neighbouring countries. El Salvador severed diplomatic relations with Honduras a day before the decisive qualifier, citing the latter’s failure to punish those responsible for crimes against Honduras’ Salvadorean immigrants.

Tension has been mounting because rural Hondurans resented large numbers of Salvadorean immigrants taking up jobs and profiting off their land. By the time of the war, the number of Salvadoreans had risen to 300,000, one-fifth of Honduras’ peasant population and 13 per cent of the total population.

Crimes against Salvadoreans should have been legally dealt with, but if Salvadoreans were unfairly profiting off Honduran land, could Honduran resentment be considered xenophobic, especially without widespread hatred of other nationalities in Honduras?

In Singapore, within just a few short years, many foreigners have made the island their temporary home. Even as Singaporeans seek the first crack at jobs they are qualified for and a higher quality of life with fewer immigrants, to avoid straining an already-overstretched national infrastructure, there is no rampant hatred of immigrants.

So why do some still claim Singapore is xenophobic?

For more of the writer’s articles on sociopolitical factors in sport, please visithttps://www.facebook.com/michael.ang.sports