Migration lessons from the soccer pitch

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 18 June 2010

After Germany had convincingly demolished the Socceroos at the World Cup, I was not sure what to expect in the office, with me being German and all that. Quips about Per Mertesacker’s hand-ball in the German penalty box? Discussions about the harsh red card for Tim Cahill? Speculations that the new Adidas ball gave the Germans an unfair advantage?

As it turned out, I got none of that. Australians, or at least my dear colleagues, are far too nice for such unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead, they congratulated me on the German win. ‘You must be so happy,’ one of them said.

Well, actually, I wasn’t. My preferred result had been a draw as I feel an emotional attachment to both my native country and my new home. When the national anthems were played before the match, it was Advance Australia Fair that gave me goose bumps, not the German anthem. Although it’s quite a challenge to feel patriotic for any country at 4.30 am.

The match made me realise how easy it is to develop an emotional bond with Australia.

Perhaps it is even stronger for migrants like me than for the natives. When CIS received a Socceroos’ fan scarf as a promotional gift this week, I quickly volunteered to hang it up in my office. Nobody else had wanted it. Possibly that was a reaction to the 4-0 defeat, or maybe they just didn’t care about soccer?

Maybe there is a lesson in this for our current discussion about migration and population growth.

Many commentators assume that Australia’s character will change beyond recognition as more and more people arrive on these shores. They seem to believe implicitly that there is not much about Australia these migrants could love.

My own experience points to the very opposite. Australia is such a friendly, fascinating country that its emotional appeal to new arrivals couldn’t be greater. It’s a country you want to call home even before the ink on your visa has dried.

The social result of migration could be counter-intuitive: it may very well strengthen Australian patriotism, not undermine it. It may reinforce social cohesion, not destroy it.

The key to such integration are not strict limits on the number of migrants but finding the right migrants: migrants who not only bring their skills to this country but are also willing to become a part of it. This aspect is often missing in our population debate, which almost exclusively focuses on the number of migrants.

As for myself, I’ll try my best to become more Australian. Supporting the Socceroos is a start, but please allow me a few decades to understand cricket.

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