Often times the game of soccer is referred simply as “the beautiful game.” However, what is it about this particular sport that stirs up the passions of millions across the globe? No sporting event for that matter is as transcendent and globally polarizing as international soccer and its various tournaments held worldwide. One can argue that an extraordinary component associated with soccer is the unique ingredient of nationalism and the imperative role it plays in the overall recipe of the sport. This coming June, soccer fans worldwide will once again have their eyes glued to the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament held in France. This tournament, like the World Cup, is held every four years and includes twenty-four of the best national teams in Europe. Even though the tournament is held exclusively for European countries, it is still without a doubt regarded as the second most important & popular international soccer tournament in the world.
Europe is where the best soccer players in the world congregate and excel. Whether you’re a Brazilian superstar or an up-and-coming prodigy out of Mexico, anyone who knows anything about soccer knows that you haven’t made it big unless you’re playing in one of the many storied clubs in Europe. The four dominant leagues in European soccer as of today are The Barclay’s Premiere League (UK), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and the Bundesliga (Germany.) Within these leagues, you can find historic powerhouses such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Juventus; just to name a few.
When discussing soccer as pertaining to Europe, it’s important to stress how beloved certain teams are in the cities they reside. In Barcelona for example, their beloved football club represents far more than just a team. The men that put on the ever-so popular red-blue-yellow uniforms of FC Barcelona embody the soul of Catalonia and its ever-growing desire of gaining autonomy from Spain. You see, Catalonians don’t see themselves as Spanish. They have their own language and proudly display the Catalonian flag on balconies and statues all cross the region as an act of pride and defiance. It’s for this very reason why when FC Barcelona plays their age-old rivals Real Madrid, people pay particular attention. What may seem like a regular competition in the exterior is nothing more than politics in the interior. Madrid, the capital of Spain, once a global superpower whose empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, represents history and glory of the nation’s past. Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia, represents a city and a group of people who wish to shape the future through self determination. So it comes to no surprise that when these two clubs meet, the world watches.
The eyes of the world will once again be focused on France this summer. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year-and-a-half, France had fallen victim to two devastating terrorist attacks in the 2015 calendar year; once in January and once again in November. These attacks were the worst violence seen on French soil since the Second World War. Not only did these attacks result in the deaths of over a hundred innocent people, it also shook up the basic fabric of French society. A society which we have grown to perceive since adolescence of embodying liberalism, freedom and an enjoyment of one’s life to the fullest. With tensions being at an all time high in France and neighboring Belgium, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) had a very important decision to make pertaining to whether or not to keep the games in France. Rather than allowing fear through terrorism to achieve its goal of disrupting ordinary European life, FIFA chose to make no changes to the planned tournament; an act of defiance and an unwillingness to succumb to trepidation.
Whether you find yourself waking up early in the morning in Honolulu or heading over to watch the games at a local pub after work in Berlin, one thing is certain: lovers of the game from all corners of the world will be tuning in this June. Those who pay little attention to politics or news won’t really notice a difference, but for those of us who do, the Euro 2016 competition will personify how soccer is far more than just a sport. Nationalism will find it’s strange and unique way into the stadiums just like it always has in the past. Flags will fill arenas and national anthems and songs will be sang repeatedly during the courses of 90 minute games. After two bloody and casualty-heavy World Wars in the previous century, Europeans (for the most part) live in relative peace and harmony these days. Germany is no longer split into East and West and Spain is no longer in the midst of a civil war. Fascism and communism no longer threaten the existence and sovereignty of millions across the continent. That Europe no longer exists. The Europe of the past; the one we learned about during history class has come a long way from its troublesome past. With the establishment of the European Union, the people of the continent have finally established a sense of unity through a shared belief of ideals and morals. Though the European Union has made it incredibly easier for people to travel from one country to another without documentation, some would argue the nationalism, which was the root cause of so much bloodshed in the past, seizes to exist today.
Rather, we see a new and friendlier Europe. A Europe that doesn’t emphasize the importance of singularity but rather focuses on the significance of community. This mental progression among the people of Europe is far more remarkable than you think. Take for example in Germany. During the 2006 World Cup games, many Germans I’ve spoken to stated how taboo it was for decades to display any form of German patriotism. After the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945, Hollywood, through an amalgamation of mediums has vilified the German people for its crimes in the past. Germans know very well what their fathers and grandfathers had done; and believe me, they’re sorry for it. Germans have tried everything in their power to prove to the world that the Germany you’ve seen in movies no longer exists. Today, Germany is one of the more socially and politically progressive nations in not only Europe, but the world. The Germans of today want absolutely nothing to do with the past that has tarnished their reputation oh so much. However, something special happened during the 2006 World Cup. The very people who had been told to be ashamed of their country once again found something to be proud of. With the fall of communism during the late 80’s and early 90’s, Germany was once again unified. And it was no significance that when Germany were the victors of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the people of Germany found national pride through peaceful measures.
Whether you live in Montreal or in Beijing, lovers of the game will witness yet another tournament embodying the many story lines of Europeans and their love for the game of soccer. However, the nationalistic approach has changed drastically. In the past the French had something to prove against the Germans when it came to soccer. It was the pride of one nation against the other. A game which illustrated the pride of one nation against another.