From Éder to Bastille Day
Rarely in the history of sports has there been a major sporting event under such a great threat of mayhem as the French EURO 2016. There were, of course, the Munich 72 and the Moscow 80 Olympics, the 1990s ethnic conflicts of the Yugoslav Wars (with major impact on the make-up of the representative sports teams of the belligerents), or the two World Wars which cancelled all competitions, but one could reasonably hope those days were truly over. Throughout time, sport has had its own internal conflicts with substance abuse or cheating. These concerns sound childish when compared to the wave of worries that has struck France after the terror attacks of the past couple of years and cast a pall over its most mundane public gatherings, let alone the most grandiose.
At least for a while, King Football seemed to have arrived at an uneasy peace with political diplomacy. The only kind of struggles soccer was exposed to were related to astronomical wages or transfer fees. Most of the Euros and World Cups of recent decades went down as fairy tales fondly reminisced about for the sheer public joy they caused in football-mad cultures such as England, France, the Netherlands or Germany, not to mention a rare Greek surprise in 2004. But question marks started popping up: organizing costs soared and so did the people’s concerns. It is enough to glance towards the Brazil 2014 World Cup (which the French daily L’Equipe called the best ever in history in terms of football quality) to better understand the pressure: why spend so much money on organizing a championship with unemployment is high and with people fearing for tomorrow? Why not invest all those millions of dollars into something that can claim a large multiplier for the business environment or which can have a real impact on social communities?
It looks like the more money enters the game, the higher the diplomatic worries as well. And now this: in the two years leading up to the kick-off of the EURO, France has been hit by repeated attacks with dramatic losses, but also consequences for daily lives. Concerns are now split between football and security. The beautiful game is not the sole centre of attention anymore. The same was true two years ago, when the World Cup risked entering the history books as a „white elephant”, a grandiose event built on the backs of tax serfs, had it not been for a beautiful Van Persie header or a breath-taking save-a-story-for-your-grandsons Brazil-Germany 1-7 match in the semi-finals.
There were many security worries, including credible threats, leading up to EURO 2016, but, in the end, nothing happened to affect the competition. However, only days away after Portugal won the European title through a goal of Éder came the attacks in Nice. And then the questions again… The calm during the tournament had instilled a feeling of security, that nothing else could happen if such a major event was managed so well. Reality would prove less amenable to being tempered through the joy of football on the field… The good vibes and wishful thinking had been rudely invalidated in no less than four days…