The European soccer championship, Euro 2012, which ended on Sunday with Spain’s
victory, brought to the attention of the world for three intense weeks a new,
united Europe – despite frictions – but more a Europe of the people than of
A Europe of common values, conflicting passions and of a
new, young generation, more integrated than their leaders, enjoying the freedom
the union offers.
Take one of the superstars of the competition, the
young and masterful Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who brought the German
favorites to their knees with two splendid goals. Wearing the blue of the
Squadra Azzurra, he is African by descent, his parents having moved from Ghana
Before the gamesm the 21-year-old feared racist outbursts
against him, yet the young Mario was celebrated by Italians and by soccer fans
from all over the continent admiring his creative skills, as do the more
conservative British when he scores for his league team, Manchester
A Ghanian superstar wearing the national colors of Italy, playing
for a British team, becoming overnight a young European hero – think about
whether this would have been possible even a few decades ago. Even in Israel, we
decided that Mario is “ours,” as his adoptive mother is Jewish.
This is a
reflection of a more multicultural Europe, encouraged by the Brussels EU
government and by the Swiss UEFA leadership. UEFA is in many ways a reflection
of the EU, promoting freedom of movement of people and players. The values of
“Respect” and a staunch “No To Racism” are promoted in their campaigns and
They also attempt to be inclusive also of weaker soccer
nations, as exemplified by the hosting of the games by Poland and Ukraine, and
by the inclusive “Europa League” that aims to encourage and include also weaker
teams, such as ours.
The latter is the brainchild of UEFA President
Michel Platini, the former French captain who gained European Cups for the
Tricolore who works today for the integration of all of Europe. One needn’t be
too brave to dare say that Platini is more of a household name than the
President of the EU (Jose Manuel Barroso).
In Warsaw, Gdansk and Kiev
throughout the month of June many aspects of Europe surfaced – some of a more
integrative nature; some less so. All defining a new Europe of the people,
mostly of the young; a kind of “European Spring.”
The integration was
best expressed by the enormous happenings in the streets of the Polish and
Ukrainian cities. Tens of thousands of fans in their national colors, chanting
their local chants, consuming endless amounts of beer, and who despite the
frictions and one or two outbreaks of violence (specifically between Russian and
Ukrainian fans) blended into a colorful collage of joy and jubilation – the
Irish green, the Spanish Roja, the Dutch and Ukrainian orange.
matched by record TV ratings for all games, with more than 200 million viewers
glued to their TV sets at the same moment, expressing conflicting passions, but
like the fans at the games, in a peaceful manner.
The integration is also
expressed by the movement of players across borders – take the Real Madrid stars
in the Germany-Portugal game – Ronaldo, Khedira and Ozil.
Mesut Ozil, the
superb German middle-fielder, of Turkish origins – at the soccer EU, Turkey is
Immigration is a challenging issue for most European countries. The
number of immigrants in the EU is approximately 50 million, mostly from non-EU
countries, among them more than 9 million Turks, 5 million Arabs, 5 million
Africans , 4 million South Asians, etc.
This problematic phenomenon was
not reflected in Euro 2012. On the contrary. Take the German and French, not
generally known for their tolerance to strangers. The German “Mannschaft,” the
youngest team, represented the black, red and gold, yet their players were not
just blonde strikers, but also Sami of Tunisia, Mesut of Turkey, Miroslav and
Lukas of Poland. The French Tricolore was represented by the Muslim Ribery,
Benzema and Nasri, and the African Malouda, to the great chagrin of Marine Le
Some of Europe’s tensions were also reflected in Euro 2012. Much was
written during the games of the wealthy and the poor. On one side Germany,
dictating austerity measures in return for aid, and on the other Greece,
Portugal, Italy and Spain, etc.
It was most obvious during the Germany-
Greece game, with fears of anti- German outbreaks by Greek fans, specifically
against the Chancellor Angela Merkel, who jumped up at every German goal. In the
end, Germans and Greeks shook hands and embraced.
In the battle between
South and North, on the soccer field the South won – three of the final four
were Spain, Italy and Portugal. There was also East versus West at the Euro. The
East represented by Poland, Russia and Ukraine and the Czech
Despite expectations to the contrary due to the imprisonment of
former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainians have received
much praise for their hosting, as have the Polish.
The Russians, despite
losing, were supported by many European soccer fans for their attractive game.
Supporting Andrei Arshavin is more appealing than supporting Vladimir
And then there were the Brits, not the greatest enthusiasts of the
EU, but the greatest enthusiasts of the Euro championship, their famous brigades
of fans carried the Union Jack, with pride and chanting, through the Polish and
Ukrainian bars and stadiums. Indeed, a Europe of the people.
world watched. In the United States, still relative newcomers to “soccer,” there
were record TV ratings on ESPN – for once admiring the European continent. For
three weeks Europe was again at the center of world attention, as London will be
in August. The Middle East was no different; all games broadcasted on live TV, a
good diversion for Middle Eastern news obsessives. This was true for Israelis
and Arabs alike. I can testify that most of my own conversations with
Palestinian friends in the past three weeks have had much more to do with Euro
bets than with settlements. We were out, but at least together.
itself, TV ratings skyrocketed. Fans of different countries, gathering in bars,
in kiosks, or before giant screens on the beaches of Tel Aviv, somewhat envious
of Europe, for once modest regarding our own (soccer)
Politics did not affect the support of teams, as used to be
the case some years ago when all of Israel supported the Dutch for not giving in
to the Arab oil boycott. Today it is acceptable to support the “hostile”
Russians, the “pro- Palestinian” Spanish or even the German
And yet without some good old Israeli xenophobia no event
is perfect. The most popular post-game TV show was named The Whole World is
Against Us (“HaOlam Kulo Negdenu”), where the moderators made fun of our
inferiority complex vis-a-vis the European soccer superpowers.
mainly expressed by the hilarious comedian Shalom Michaelshvilli, of the Trio
“Ma Kashur?” (“What’s the Connection?”). And indeed, you had to ask yourselves,
what is the connection? Between us, our region, and Europe, the EU and the Euro
– probably very little.
On the serious side of this
great sports event, there is an expression of a European continent more united
than before, a Europe grown past its historical past conflicts, establishing a
joint system. One that despite economic problems and tensions works quite well
on the governmental level, but as expressed in “Euro 2012,” is more than
anything a Europe of the people, a Europe of a new, young generation.
writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief
negotiator for the Oslo Accords.