How the Euro’s 2012 in Poland and Ukraine is not simply about football…

How the Euro’s 2012 in Poland and Ukraine is not simply about football…

WEDNESDAY, 4 JULY 2012

This is my first article, and it is about football, with some elements of history and politics, things I take very close to my heart. With many articles regarding these aforementioned elements, I thought I would have a go myself. Hope you, the reader, enjoy this read, any constructive comments for improvement, much appreciated. 
It is another two years after the World Cup. Another European Championship where the cream of the cream players vie against each other in a heated contest of football. You have your star players in the traditional powerhouses, be it Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France, England, Netherlands. The Spanish players came in as favourites with their free-flowing, ‘tiki-taka’, one-touch football that Dutch legend Johann Cruyff had once introduced so greatly in his beloved teams, Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona FC.
We all saw how magnitude of tactics and chance can impact in a football match. Denmark against Netherlands (see link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glgNaXCZjfI&feature=related), and Greece against Russia (see link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XxbB88q8nM&feature=related).  These matches definitely raised a few eyebrows, when Dick Advocaat’s men had not made it through, especially with a rather efficient, attacking football. Once we had reached the quarter-finals, no one had expected the Czech Republic out of all the traditional powerhouses (see above for reference) to qualify properly. Despite their best efforts, the Czechs were ousted by the fancy, however, at times wasteful Portuguese contingent set of players, only to come to the rescue with their talismanic captain, Cristiano Ronaldo once again.
However, up till this stage, no one had thought much about the politics that entered the game in the Greece against Germany quarter-finals, or simply the manner and way that the Ukrainian women, football fans or Dutch players of African and Caribbean origins were treated, at times disciplined, during the course of the tournament. Quite evidently, this leaves the football tournament being not only a sporting and pride matter, but a political and social one as well. Of course, a wise person would instantly tell us that this was not the sole football competition that inherited political and social elements.
Before we dwell any further in these recent examples, let us look at past instances. There are two examples that highlight these particular concepts, namely the European Championships which saw West Germany being put under the microscope for around more than a month’s duration in the years 1972 held in Belgium and 1988 held in West Germany respectively. The masterclass of the German team comprising of the monumental talents including Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer, Jupp Heynckes, Herbert Wimmer and many more[1]. They had aided the national team to win and progress far into the finals with a 3-0 drilling of the Soviet Union in 1972, only to be disappointed 16 years later, with an unfortunate 2-1 semi-final defeat by the Dutch team spearheaded by players of the Dutch ‘golden age’ with likes of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit[2]. Football aside, the political elements shall now be considered.

A modern history student or historian simply put, would understand that in the contemporary age and during the years 1949 and 1988, West Germany was still a controlled federation consisting of the predominantly American, British and French trilateral powers under the proposed Potsdam Conference of 1945 amongst others, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990[3][4].  The two modern German regions were contending in a constant struggle of dominance in the sporting world particularly in the Seoul Olympics of 1988. With strenuous efforts of a frequent ‘showcasing’ of the rich and more developed West Germany, with a total population of 65 million people as compared to a lot less significant one of 17 million people, the East Germans dominated the Olympics with a staggering 102 medals in total, ahead of the United States and more importantly beat their West cousins who won a mere 40 medals in comparison [5]. This was significant, as this highlighted how, despite being stages of rapprochement  and a mix of political and economic co-operation between the two controlled states [6], the West Germans were not only vying in footballing terms, there were still some areas of political competition.

With consideration of the past European Championships, it is now important to consider the present one in Poland and Ukraine as co-hosts of the 2012 competition. There have been extreme instances where people have been affected politically, socially and economically, which can be evident in the fighting for Ukrainian women’s rights, the racial discrimination of the Dutch players by Polish fans and the Greece-Germany match itself.

An example of how football is not only a sporting matter, but rather a political one is summed up well here [7]. During the course of the UEFA Championships this year, there has been an ongoing case of encouraging the sex industry in Ukraine, much to the dismay of the local Ukrainian feminist group, Femen [7]. This was significant, because despite the legitimacy of the protest, this shows another social problem being unresolved. Also, with football being dominated by men as a sport, people often forget the opposite gender in their relation to it, which in my personal opinion, poses a huge question to their rights as women.

A very frequent social issue with football that has always troubled players of all races, was racism itself. Recently, the Dutch players, captained by Mark van Bommel, were racially discriminated with monkey chants by the local and Russian fans in their training camp in Krakow [8]. This was significant, because this is not the first time that racism has affected football, especially with a similar, if not worse scenario with Mario Balotelli slammed in Italy for his Ghanian roots [9]. Furthermore, it seems to me that no matter how much the UEFA try to prevent racism in football, it still remains and exists, with it very much unsolved. Fining a set of Football Associations in countries, be it Russia or Poland is not the best solution, particularly since it is perpetual and fans continue to do malicious things in the stands. Thus, this issue really has to be considered properly, if racism is to escape from stadiums and players’ troubles once and for all.

A third, but final and important example is the match between Greece and Germany itself. On one hand, Greece had come in as a respective underdog, surprising fans worldwide with their effective 1-0 defeat of an entertaining Russian team in their qualifications campaign in Group A [10]. On the other hand, Germany came in as favourites, playing with an efficient style of football, winning and qualifying rather comfortably in their respective qualifications campaign in Group B [10]. However, entering the match, a lot of football fans did silently realise that this was more of a political and economic problem between the two teams, particularly with the bankruptcy of Greece and the attempted rehabilitation by one of two strongest European economies apart from France. Greek fans knew that with the austerity or deficit-cutting terms that German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to impose on their country apart from their European counterparts in countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, this could well be their chance of show-casing their talents and their worthiness on footballing and nationalistic terms, in what was dubbed as a “debt derby” by many [11]. This is important, as with this fixture, only to the recent request back the Greeks to have more agreeable economic terms with the European economic giants, add to not only sporting, but political and economic tensions as well, especially with the German government growing increasingly impatient with the Greek state of economy and employment rates, so that it could potentially recover from an enormous debt [11]. (An interesting read to the link 11 provided below in the references).

Effectively, football can not only be about sports, but also about social, political and economic aspects as well. This was evident as the examples given through the 1988 European Championships held in West Germany (going back into the political regards and agreements of the Cold War in the post-WWII years and beyond), the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, the racial discrimination of the Dutch players during their qualifying campaign and the Greece against Germany quarter-finals match. All of them are important for further consideration, with the UEFA and FIFA acting cohesively together with world governments. Otherwise, without that key act, football will always remain with this darker side looming over it. But then again, that is probably why it is such a popular sport globally?

References 
[5]http://www.atlantic-times.com/archive_detail.php?recordID=1954
[6]http://www.country-data.com/cgi-bin/query/r-5139.html
[7]http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/3284/euro-2012/2012/06/25/3198769/uefa-acting-like-pimps-in-ukraine-femen
[8]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/euro-2012/9322217/Euro-2012-insults-hurled-at-Mark-van-Bommels-Dutch-and-other-incidents-raise-fears-for-what-may-lie-ahead.html[9]http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/2012/06/27/mario-balotelli-gets-apology-after-italian-newspaper-depicts-him-as-king-kong-86908-23901660/
[10]http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/football/euro/groups.html;_ylt=As.dJN34227BwOKdgJAIZ8HNg4t4;_ylu=X3oDMTE3aHE2OXVnBG1pdAMEcG9zAzUEc2VjA01lZGlhTmF2aWdhdGlvbl9FdXJvMjAxMg–;_ylg=X3oDMTFtOXVjbTluBGludGwDZ2IEbGFuZwNlbi1nYgRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANldXJvMjAxMgRwdANzZWN0aW9ucw–;_ylv=3
[11]http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-06-22/greece-vs-dot-germany-the-real-fireworks-come-after-the-soccer-match