THE European Championships may not have dished up the most exciting football yet, but it is another great example of the powerful uniting and integrating force that is sport, especially football.
There have been images of hooligans trying their worst to spoil the party, but the vast majority of fans at the tournament have been having just that - a party and a feast of football.
Scenes of opposition fans singing along with each other and having a pre-match kick-about like the Irish and the Swedes did has shown that off the field, there is a real sense of enjoying an occasion like this.
On the field there are also signs of how multi-cultural societies can unite around sport. Europe’s national teams have benefited from the influx of people and their football has definitely benefited too by being exposed to different styles of play and unique skills. Germany and Belgium’s coaching philosophy has included “street soccer”-type skills into their training manuals because they have recognised the need for it.
Older football fans will recall that special France team of 1998. That team was nicknamed the “United Nations” because they featured players of all hues and colours originating from all over the globe. The great Zinedine Zidane (born in Algeria), Patrick Vieira (Senegal), Lilian Thuram (Guadeloupe), Christian Karembeu (New Caledonia), Marcel Desailly (Ghana) and Youri Djorkaeff (born in France to Polish and Armenian parents) gave the team a real cosmopolitan culture.
That team was strong in its diversity and successful, going on to win that World Cup of 1998 in France and the Euro championships two years later. Importantly too, that team arose in a time when conservative right-wing forces were on the rise in France. The success of that team was attributed to the subsequent defeat of these exclusionary forces at the polls.
Currently in Europe there is another rise of anti-social right wing forces fuelled by anti-immigration policies and Islamophobia. France, Germany and a number of the countries participating in the championships have experienced this. The United Kingdom votes today on whether to leave the European Union. Without getting into the details of this referendum, it is certain that the “leave” campaign has a strong anti-immigration slant.
Back to the football.
Can this current French side achieve something similar? They certainly have a number of similar ingredients - Dimitri Payet (born in Reunion), Patrice Evra (Senegal), Adil Rami (Moroccan parents) and N’golo Kante (Malian parents) too mention just a few, gives this squad a very similar look to the 1998 version. They also have Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman who are of Guadeloupian descent – perhaps that’s the secret.
Germany is inextricably linked with the rise of right-wing nationalism, due to their history. Their current squad boasts the likes of the brilliant Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, both Germans by birth but criticised just a week before the tournament started by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, whose stance is that Islam is unconstitutional. A member of this party also made racially disparaging remarks about Jerome Boateng, who has a Ghanaian father.
There are players from all over the world at the Euros.
Virtually every team has one and so it should be in an open society. Austria has David Alaba, born to a Filipino mother and a Nigerian father. Belgium has Radja Nainggolan, who is of Indonesian descent.
It seems that sport and politics will always be mixed but the ideals of sport must always remain - that it should be inclusive, fair and reward talent. So enjoy the football and remember that is what it is about, let’s not get distracted by nationalistic hooligans.
The title “European Championships” is just a name given to it to define the rules of the competition. Germany’s football federation president Reinhard Grindel summed it up best: “Millions of Germans are proud of this national team because it`s the way it is, because it has people from migrant backgrounds in its ranks and because what counts is not someone`s origin or religion, but their performance.”