| ZURICH, July 3
ZURICH, July 3 Swiss soccer fans talked of pride
in defeat as they welcomed home their national team from the
World Cup on Thursday, but cautioned the passions stirred by the
multi-ethnic side would not impact the country's immigration
Switzerland was glued to the TV on Tuesday as their side,
led by a captain whose parents are Turkish and whose talisman
was born in Kosovo, was knocked out of the tournament by a late
goal against Argentina.
Hundreds of fans turned out in Zurich to give the Nati, as
the national team is referred to in Switzerland, a hero's
welcome after the heartbreaking defeat.
This was just five months after the country narrowly voted
in favour of introducing tighter immigration controls, leading
some to point to the high proportion of Swiss athletes who are
first or second generation Swiss citizens.
A photo circulating on Twitter following the vote imagined
the national soccer team without immigrants. All but three
players were whited out of the picture.
The surprise victory of a Russian-born snowboarder nicknamed
"I-Pod" at the Olympic Games in Sochi just days after the
immigration vote also led to an ironic outpouring of national
Fans who turned out to welcome the Nati home expressed their
pride at the players' performance and said the team was a good
example of cultural integration, but few thought this would
spill over into politics.
"I think that politics and sport shouldn't be mixed with one
another," said Dani Seiler, a 32-year old office clerk, on the
sidelines of event for the Swiss team in Zurich.
Housewife Beatrice Scheurer, 57, echoed this sentiment: "I
know what sport is and I know what politics is."
In a country where foreigners account for nearly a quarter
of the country's 8 million strong population, there are fears
that the Swiss way of life is under threat.
Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second-largest bank,
and drug giant Novartis are run by Americans.
This was seized on by the right-wing Swiss People's Party
(SVP), which campaigned for the tighter immigration controls in
The Nati though represents a melting pot for players of
different backgrounds to come together. This is embodied by the
team's star player Xherdan Shaqiri.
Shaqiri, 22, plays for German champions Bayern Munich and
scored three goals for Switzerland at the World Cup. Born in
Kovoso and raised in a small town outside Basel, Shaqiri drew
the biggest applause from fans as he was presented on stage with
the other players.
The player is aware of his multicultural background, wearing
boots stitched with the Swiss, Albanian and Kosovan national
flags. He often tweets in German and Albanian, adding hashtags
such as #suisse, #kosovo, #albania and #love.
"I feel emotionally attached to Switzerland as well as
Kosovo, my parents' homeland," Shaqiri wrote on his Facebook
page before the Argentina game. "I love both countries more than
Alongside Shaqiri in the squad are players such as Josip
Drmic, Philippe Senderos and captain Gokhan Inler, who all have
Midfielder Valon Behrami, 29, who arrived in Switzerland
aged five with his family as refugees from Kosovo, was almost
deported twice, but saved in large part thanks to efforts by a
local politician, according to Swiss daily newspaper Blick.
Switzerland's coach at the World Cup, German Ottmar
Hitzfeld, who ushered in this new wave of players, has talked of
its importance to Swiss soccer.
"Switzerland has lots of immigrants, around 20 percent of
the population, and in the team, over half the team are
immigrants," Hitzfeld said in pre-match news conference at the
World Cup. "Without immigrants we would not have a team."
SVP lawmakers Natalie Rickli and Hans Fehr, who have been
very prominent in their support of immigration controls,
stressed the impact of Switzerland's soccer success after the
team qualified for the round of 16 and a match against
"These moments unite city and country, old and young, but
also the Swiss and second generation citizens," Rickli is quoted
as saying by Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten.
Dany El-Idrissi, 38, a former Swiss athlete whose father is
from Morocco, told Reuters the example set by this Swiss side
could result in change off the pitch as well as on it.
"Sport can change politics," he said. "That's the reality."
(Additional reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Katharina Bart in
Zurich, Brian Homewood in Brasilia, Editing by Nigel Hunt)