The European economic crisis and the state of the European Union have taken a back seat to the game of soccer. Well, kind of. Although the uncertainty in Europe regarding several EU members, most notably, Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal (the so-called PIGS or PIIGS) has undoubtedly held center stage for months, for a few hours everyday over the course of several weeks, Europe can forget about its economic woes and focus on something so simple yet so important to its culture…soccer. The 2012 European Championship has provided a timely distraction from the economic and political chaos that abounds throughout Europe, rallying people around national pride.
It is hard not to find the developments in this Euro Championship the least bit ironic. For starters, all of the “PIGS” have advanced through pool play and into the Quarterfinals, except for Ireland (however, Italy pulled through, and thus, the acronym still holds). Despite enormous debts, floundering economies, political unrest and uncertainty, these countries have managed to field talented and/or determined national teams whose heart makes up for any lack of talent. The cynics out there must be wondering how these nations cannot grow their economies, reduce their debt, spend responsibly, and prevent tax evasion; yet, meanwhile, can find a way to remain successful in one of the most competitive soccer tournaments in the world while their countries seemingly crumble around them. They must be irked by the fact that Greece has the opportunity to triumph over Germany on Friday on the soccer field in one of the more ironic matchups of the tournament, while being so heavily indebted to them and the rest of the eurozone for bailouts.
For those of us with a more positive outlook, this soccer tournament can be seen as a major celebration for these nations and an enormous boost of morale. The rest of the world casts a scornful look on these struggling Mediterranean nations, who have caused uncertainty and volatility to permeate through just about every world market. These nations have long been the center of unenviable headlines due to their economic struggles; however, for these few weeks, they have shed (somewhat) that infamous reputation with their play on the field. They have provided their people – burdened by shrinking economies and austerity measures – with a chance to be proud of the their heritage, their culture, and their country. It may only be a game on the surface, but for the thousands of passionate fans in Europe and the millions more standing firmly behind their respective nations, it is much more. It is hope in a time of despair. It is pride during a period of struggle. At the very least, it is a welcomed distraction from the uncertainty that looms outside the stadiums.