BAt any normal level, England’s performance in the European Championship was outstanding. The team reached heights it had not reached in over half a century, and their off-the-field demeanor was dignified and sporty, a credit to England’s prominent leader Gareth Southgate. At the final whistle, the contest was a draw. The aftermath was a tragedy, requiring a “result” of a penalty shoot-out. This involved the ritual evisceration of the young players’ emotions at the altar of entertainment.
A penalty shootout is staged cruelty that should be beneath the dignity of team sport. Degrade noble play to the roll of a die. If you want more goals, widen the posts. Otherwise, honor the result: a sport that cannot accept a draw is not a sport, it is a spectacle.
International football is an identity politics reduced to absurdity. Driven into hysteria by the advertising-led media, it is supposed to generate a sense of national euphoria. Success offers a psychological “high,” which is made more exhilarating by the equally hysterical depths of depression in the event of defeat. Like praising the NHS or the royal family, such public emotions are presumed to have a binding effect that should not be criticized, especially in a country battling a pandemic.
However, the corresponding division cannot be ignored either. Xenophobia, team boos and foreign anthems in last week’s final matches were followed by racist attacks on three unfortunate penalty shooters, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. Soccer fuels the anonymous rule of the social media mafia. There is no use dismissing this as deplorable. It is an integral part of sports hysteria. It will be the one, and it will pay with the other.
Experts debate a lot if there is any long-term political benefit from sporting success. Sports nationalism was exploited by totalitarian regimes throughout the 20th century, from interwar Germany to postwar communism. The consensus is that such morale boosts not have a lasting impact. England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup, like its defeat in the quarterfinals in 1970 and the success of the 2012 London Olympics, had little impact on opinion polls, either for or against. of the government. Yes, people feel good when things are going well. But the Olympics were supposed to get us in shape. That did not happen. Elite sport glorifies athletes, not politicians.
Boris Johnson’s exploitation of English nationalism has been equally dubious. He is supposedly Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His downing street dressing on the flag of St. George he sat uncomfortable with his angry insistence, in the face of criticism from the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, that he dedicated himself to the whole of the United Kingdom. There were no St Andrew flags or the Red Dragon of Wales flying over Downing Street during this European Championships.
Politicians who appropriate sport for personal gain must accept the consequences. Great Britain has always insisted on entering four teams for international football competitions. However, suppose that Spain now entered Catalonia or Germany entered Bavaria, both provinces more “decentralized” than Wales or Scotland. This summer, downing Street blatantly Anglocentric presented himself as the ruler of a nation. If we had joined a team representing the UK, it could not only have patched up the union so badly beaten, it could have won.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism