With Portugal the winner of the Euro 2016, a short reflection on the state of Europe as it was mirrored in football during the past four weeks.
That was that. Portugal stunned France to take home the trophy from Saint Denis in a tepid affair of a final. While the French still had the swagger from the Germany match, Portugal made their way to the final in rather unspectacular fashion, recording only one win during 90 minutes in the previous six matches. However, the focus of this post should be another.
The last big Tournament?
Before Euro 2016 started some commentators argued that this would be the last big tournament. Their reasoning were the future tournaments of 2018, 2020 and 2022. The World Cup 2018 will be held in Russia. Besides the performance of the Sbornaja on the pitch, what gave more reason to concern were the events off it. This was not hooliganism what we have witnessed during the first days of the tournament but this was an orchestrated demonstration of trained fighters coming to Marseille to wreak havoc. There were of course English hooligans in the city, too just as there was a number of French people looking for a fight. Exactly whom fought whom is unclear and is not up to debate here. The violence sent a strong reminder that hooliganism is not a problem associated with the past but which is very virulent. The Russians however, took it to a different level. Reports stated that these people were no football fans but trained fighters, almost soldiers. Some even may have an army background and some were said to be involved in Ukraine. Be that as it may, the real talking point were statements in the aftermath by an official from the Russian Football Federation. Instead of condemning the violence he stated ‘Well done lads, keep it up.’ and blamed the French authorities for failing to deal with the problem appropriately. Though he may be right with the last point, his statement of encouragement is entirely out of order and raises doubts for 2018 when the circus that is the World Cup will come to Russia.
Once the football establishment has mastered Russia there is another Euro tournament looming. After the football establishment has mastered Russia 2018, the Euro tournament will turn into a wandering circus across the continent. Or rather thirteen venues with the semi-finals and the final played at Wembley. The reason is the 60th. anniversary since the first Euro tournament was played out in 1960. It was won by the Soviet Union, though no one can see them re-producing that feat.
Then, following this, there will be Qatar 2022. Football in the desert. The country, rich through oil sales and dependence of the so-called western world on this raw material, has to build a football infrastructure quasi from scratch. Reports from the building sites are not encouraging as the workers are said to be held as slaves. Moreover, the whole process has come under scrutiny in the wake of the vote in December 2010. Ever since, Sepp Blatter has been ousted from his office as FIFA president and details of bribery have emerged. Not just for Qatar but also for Germany 2006.
A Mirror of the Time
With this in mind, it is of course easy to declare Euro 2016 the last big tournament. Though what makes a tournament a big tournament, even a great tournament? is it the sport on offer? What about the spectators and the atmosphere? Surely, this must be taken into account, too. With these signs, it is not as easy as it may seem, however to speak of the last big tournament in 2016. France has had an annus horribilis: 2015 was one of the worst years for La Grande Nation. The threat of terrorism holds the country firmly in its grip. It is visible at every tourist site in Paris, at every synagogue, museum, train station as well as the airports. The tragic events of last year also threw their shadows over Euro 2016. It put the country on high alert and the state of emergency has been declared in the wake of the events on 13 November. This has since been prolonged twice and one cannot but think that this may soon be the new normal. The situation has been made worse by legislation focusing on the labour market. This has been problematic for some years and change was requuired. Yet, the new legislation was pushed through with the aide of a paragraph of the French constitution if there is no majority in Parliament. This does not make this legislation popular among the working people; hence protests and strikes have since been a regularity in Paris and the country. Just before the competition started, floods were holding Paris and its region in their grip. To the east of the city, whole towns were cut off and completely under water. There were no thoughts for football. The weather during the first weeks of Euro 2016 did not help either.
Europe has a number of crises to endure: banking crisis, Euro crisis, debt crisis, refugee crisis, Brexit. Almost everything nowadays is a crisis. In fact, Europe is in the midst of an identity crisis. It is summed up by the most recent refugee crisis which saw many countries over the past year turning a cold shoulder towards people in need from Asia and Africa. So much so that this migration movement has caused a strengthening of right wing and far right so-called protest movements who fear that their respective country is overrun by ‘hordes of people’ or ‘bunches of migrants’. Of course this is not true, the total figure has just exceeded 1m but the majority have come to Germany; 70000 came to France much less to the UK. Everyone seems to have an issue with these refugees and ignores that we are also responsible for their situation. A catholic country like Poland seems to have forgotten one Christian principle: charity. In the east the situation in Ukraine is difficult and almost impossible to solve. Of course, Russia is heavily involved and has also annexed Crimea. What would have happened had Russia played Ukraine during Euro 2016? Orwell’s famous words of sport being war by other means seems fitting. What is going on in Russia? An official of the Russian Football Federation told Russian fighters to ‘keep it up’ and a ‘Well done, lads!’ The rant continues as Western Europe is said to be gay and can’t handle real men.
Something is rotten in Europe and at the fringes the situation does not look good. England were out of Europe twice in the matter of just four days. It simply adds to the misery Europe is currently going through. On top of that, Euro 2016 has not provided a spark or enlightened football fans; in fact this tournament was flat and devoid of any real excitement. Exceptions are of course the confirmation of this. The late Tony Judt once stated that Europe was united via football. Unfortunately, this was not always the case during the last month of football in France. Therefore, Euro 2016 was a mirror of the time we are currently going through. It will some take hard work for this to change in the future.