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'Come on, Belgium!' Why English became the language of Belgian football
The Red Devils’ World Cup campaign is evidence of the growing use of English in Belgium, “and it’s very important that it happens”, according to Belgian economist and philosopher Philippe Van Parijs.
In a country with three official languages – French, Dutch and German – for the Belgian national football team and its fans, the solution is to use English.
Speaking to RTBF, Van Parijs pointed out the national team’s overwhelming usage of English on its social media. The official account name of the team on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is “Belgian Red Devils” with the vast majority of posts in English.
“The choice of English is far from trivial and it has never been so present,” Van Parijs said. “What is happening in our national team is what will happen more and more in the Belgian population, and it’s very important that it happens.”
Van Parijs also noted the fans’ usage of English in terrace chants. Native French speakers and native Dutch speakers can be heard chanting “Come on Belgium!” at matches, united in English and pride for the national team.
Even the site to buy tickets for World Cup qualifying matches, Fan Management, is in English as well as the official fan club, 1895.
Van Parijs is the author of "Belgium. A utopia for our time" and believes English can be used as a more neutral language to unite a linguistically divided country. In his book the philosopher details a utopian future for Belgium with fewer divisions. Van Parijs believes this national transition to English is an irreversible phenomenon.
“This positive collective emotion could go forward and build a better future for all Belgians,” he said.
According to Mehdi Bayat, Managing Director of the Royal Charleroi Sporting Club, it is easier and more effective to communicate with Belgian football’s international fanbase in English.
“It is necessary to be able to communicate with all the supporters that this team has around the world,” he said. “English is mostly used on Instagram where the number of characters is more limited.”
Although many of the Belgian players have played in the English Premier League, Bayat said they mostly speak French on the field and in the locker rooms.