Europe is crumbling.
Can football put it back together? Can such a simple ballgame save such a complicated continent? We set out on a quest for clues because the state of affairs is complex. There’s Brexit and emerging nationalist tendencies in every corner: Salvini’s Lega in Italy, the National Rally in France, the Freedom Party of Austria, the AFD in Germany or FIDESZ in Hungary to name just a few. All over the continent populists are putting national interests ahead of the European ideal. And we need football to reunite Europe. Clue N* : our beloved ballgame has always worked. It’s just easy. It’s just fun. Politics can be exhausting. The European Championships are celebrating their 60th anniversary. And the first tournament back in 1960, a grand total of four teams took part. This time, 24 teams will compete across 12 European countries The idea of sharing the tournament across the continent came from Michel Platini. That was back in 2012. Platini has since been banned from football for corruption, but he’s still the father of this unusual tournament. And what has he given Europe with his wild idea ?
Back then the situation wasn’t quite as precarious as it was today. Perhaps it was an unintentional stroke of genius. Let’s dig a little deeper. “A historic adventure that will ensure the tournament builds bridges between nations and fans.” Building bridges wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it’s complicated. On the way to the tournament, all of these possible qualifying encounters gave had to be avioded for political reasons. In other words these countries all have beef with one another, even under one of the same European roof. If Kosovo qualify, things get really tricky. Russia, Spain, Romania and Azerbaijan (four of the host countries) still haven’t even recognized Kosovo as an independent state. If they had to display the flag and play the anthem it could cause serious political complications. It doesn’t sound as if football could really make a difference here. At least the mascot with its hip haircut might please the masses but can it accomplish what Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson can’t? Let’s look back at a case from the past the last World Cup in 2018. For a while many feared travelling to Russia because of the unruly local hooligans. But then during the tournament all the fans had a great time in Russia. Everyone got along and the world celebrated a peaceful festival of football. This time Russia will host matches once more in St. Petersburg. Putin’s entanglements around the globe might be on people’s minds before they think of football. But the game brought people together in 2018 and it can do in 2020. Russia is only one of many stages. To understand the full picture. We need to know the who? The what? And the where? These twelve cities will host at least three group stage matches each. if a host nation qualifies, they’re guaranteed to play some games at home. So we already know about St. Petersburg. The tournament kicks off in Rome. The opening match is on the 12th of June at the Olympic Stadium. Outbreaks of violence are common in Italian football grounds. Fascists fans are tolerated at many clubs and racism in the country is on the march. To counter it, Italy’s Football Federation is a part of UEFA’s “equal game” anti-discrimination campaign. This will be the country’s 10th time taking part at the euros. They won it once in 1968.
Can Italia do it again? In Scotland, the games will be held at Glasgow’s Hampden Park. In football as in politics, Scotland is divided and Glasgow is home to one of Europe’s most explosive darlings. It’s a rivalry closely tied to religion. Catholic Celtic was founded by Irish immigrants.
Rangers shaped by Protestants. To dodge Brexit, Scotland are toying with the idea of seceding from the UK. While Celtic fans are of no simple mind on the issue, most Rangers supporters want to remain in the United Kingdom. This is a deadlock that the euros are unlikely to be able to break. The ball will also be rolling in the Netherlands in the Johan Cruyff Arena. At a recent Dutch second division match between Den Bosch and Excelsior, winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira was subjected to racist abuse from the stands. The game had to be interrupted. Football reacted. The next matchday Dutch teams from the top two divisions stood still during the first minute of thier matches to take a stand against racism. Yet more proof that football can bring about political change. Honestly something like this is worth more than any politician speech. Romania looks forward to hosting at Bucharest’s National Arena. The Romanians missed their chance for direct qualification but could still make it through the playoffs. To do so would be a milestone for this country of football lovers. For years there have been protests against government corruption. Economically and politically Romanians longed to finally arrive in Europe. A large European sporting event could certainly help the country and the capital Bucharest with its two million inhabitants. Azerbaijan’s capital Baku is also a host city, but is it even in Europe?
Where does the border lie ? More about that later. Denmark is another host at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. Wouldn’t it be great if Denmark could recreate the atmosphere of 1992? When they sensationally went all the way. But certain Danish players don’t have it all too easy at the moment. Unfortunately because of the color of their skin. Fear of the foreign is sadly widespread in the country. The stadium San Mamés is situated in Bilbao and Bilbao is situated in the Basque Country of northern Spain. The Spanish national team haven’t played in the Basque Country since 1967. Just like the Catalans, the Basque people want their autonomy. Will the Spain games be considered home or away matches? Whoever’s fighting for independence surely wants nothing to do with Europe and the EU right? Wrong! The Basque feel their roots stem from the heart of the continent. So it will be interesting to see whether Bilbao would celebrate. What would be a fourth championship for the Spanish. In Ireland there are more sheep than people and the euros will take place here too, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The EU is highly regarded in Ireland because it’s done so much for the local economy. Anything else? We go then from Dublin to Budapest. With FIDESZ, Hungary has for years had a government that’s had odds with Europe. There are serious problems here with freedom of expression, judicial independence and the rights of refugees. The games will be played at the newly built Ferenc Puskás Stadium. Now let’s head to Germany to the Allianz Arena in Munich. Germany have made it to the euros every time since 1972. With three titles so far, 2020 will be their 13th time at the tournament. The German team is comprised of players from various cultural backgrounds. A good example then for German society,currently dealing with the alarming growth of the far-right euro skeptic AFD and 2024 is getting closer. (Aleksander Čeferin) “The host of the Euro 2024 will be Germany.” Interesting, but now it’s still about 2020. The tournament will reach its climax at the Wembley Stadium in London. This is where the semi-finals and the final will take place and a new european champion will be crowned. London, England, the motherland of Brexit. (Borris Johnson): “It’s gets Brexit done.” How exactly is the European idea supposed to be revitalized here of all places? And the English team is a solid contender. Just imagine they win and everyone suddenly become so happy with Europe that Brexit discussions just fade from memory. (Borris Johnson): “We love Europe. I love you.” Bit by bit, the clues are piling up. A pick-me-up for Europe, a collective celebration for all Europeans, for all fans that sends a huge signal to other continents that could help the EU too. But how exactly will it be for the supporters ? What if no one shows up?
In Baku, Azerbaijan that could easily be the case. There’s plenty going against dislocation. First of all Azerbaijan’s team haven’t qualified. That was more or less clear from the start. Secondly this post-soviet country has been accused of human rights abuses and violations of freedom of speech. In the 2018 Democracy Index, Azerbaijan came in 149 out of 167 countries. Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan didn’t feel safe enough to enter the country for the Europa League final this year. As an Armenian he feared for his life. Thirdly the atmosphere at that Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal was miserable. In Azerbaijan no one’s really all that fussed about football. Side note: There will be reports about why this location was chosen for the European Championship in the first place and maybe some suggestions that money from the UEFA sponsor soccer was behind it. One of the biggest power companies in Azerbaijan. They’ll be talk about human rights and it will become clear that football and politics are toghtly intertwined and that Azerbaijan is using football as a stage on which to promote itslef. There’s no two ways about it, football is political Then there’s the problem of distance : some 4400 kilometers separate Baku and Dublin. Isn’t that a bit far? Ok, so those who have the means and the time can hop around europe to the different host cities. One can learn a lot about the countries, the people and above all, the continent. For fans, Euro 2020 could be a fantastic learning experience. They can expand their horizons, learn about European ideas and cultures and overcome barriers and misconcepetions. That goes for those who stay at home and watch on TV too. But what does that really mean?
Can football unite Europe or not? Will Europe still be a divided continent after the tournament? Or will all Europeans unite together in harmony? We admit it’s complicated. Football will surely leave behind some positive traces after the tournament in every European country. And we don’t have to agree with everything other states in Europe do or allow but we also don’t have to criticize every little thing to the point of destruction. Football alone cannot read Europe of hostile nationalist tendencies. But football can function as a useful tool to show politics that “we” is better than “me” Especially when it’s played all over the European continent.