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Martinique wins and (still) dreams…

Joris Marveaux was a happy man after the final whistle of the referee at the Martinique vs. Cuba match on Wednesday, June 19th. The “national” team of Martinique secured a clear 3-0 win, their first at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, held mainly in the USA. The 36-year-old Marveaux scored the first opening goal, just before halftime (45 min.) and paved the way for the first points of the tournament.

However, the triumph has also a bitter taste. And the reason is… the quotes describing the “national” team of Martinique, which is not an independent nation, but an overseas region of France. Having this status, Martinique is administered the same way as all other regions of mainland France, despite lying some 7.000 kilometers away from Paris. This affects football in a really strange way, as Martinique cannot fulfill the dream of entering the World Cup, even in the qualifying phase!

Martinique has a representative team, founded back in 1953, earlier than most recognized football association of the neighboring Caribbean islands. After the permission of the FFF (Federation Françoise de Football), the governing body of all French dependencies, the team gained the right to enter regional competitions of the CONCACAF (Football Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean), where the island belongs geographically.

In 2013 Martinique became a full CONCACAF member, along with other French dependencies in the region (Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and French Guyana). However, the French permission is limited. They cannot join FIFA, the world football governing body, so any player having the Martinique football nationality cannot even dream of playing in the World Cup.

That’s why all impressive footballers born in the island, or having parent(s) born there, have opted through the years to play for France.  You may never have noticed it, but a handful of impressive football stars who played for “Les Bleus” have Martiniquais origin.

Starting from Xerces Louis, who was the first Antillean wearing the national jersey back in 1954, Martinique has provided France with first class players, like Gerard Janvion, Eric Abidal, Nicolas Anelka and even the “King” Thierry Henry (who has also Guadeloupian origin). What would have happened if all these players had chosen to represent Martinique internationally? Obviously the national team would have by far better results.

Instead, being de facto excluded from the highest national team football competition, every Martinique national coach has to choose from lower class players, usually reaching or past their 30s. That’s because every Martinique-origin star player is dreaming of reaching the highest level and receive a call from (current World Champions) French national team, so he doesn’t risk a rejection playing for his island representative team.

Currently there are more than 20 full FIFA members, who are not independent states. More than half of them are lying near Martinique in the Caribbean Sea. Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Turks-Caicos Islands are former British possessions.  Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao are still under Dutch administration. Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands are US-administered. All these 11 national teams are fully preparing their first matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying phase this autumn. France is the only (former) colonial power who doesn’t permit to overseas possessions to compete independently.

Wait a minute, that’s wrong! At the other side of the world map, two French possessions in the Pacific (Tahiti and New Caledonia) have earned the right to become full FIFA members, Tahiti back in 1990 and New Caledonia in 2004. There’s a matter of administrative differences, of course (Tahiti, of French Polynesia, has the status of an overseas country and New Caledonia is a special collectivity, so they’re not integral parts of France), but the difference becomes more bitter.

In March 2018 the French and Dutch football federations have signed a Collaboration Agreement with CONCACAF. A committee will be formed to examine the potential of all French possessions in the region to eventually become FIFA Members. This Martinique win (a symbolic one, as Cuba is the first Caribbean nation which reached a FIFA World Cup finals phase, back in 1938!) should remind that nobody could be left out of the game.

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