In what was dubbed the “Bailout Game” of the 2012 European Championships, the German national team defeated their Greek counterparts, the 4-2 score only slightly representative of the match’s one-sidedness. The adroit, disciplined Deutscher Fuβball-Bund owned 64% of the ball, prompting at least one economic retainment joke and the asking of the question: What does this game mean for Europe?
Not much, according toIra Broudway of Bloomberg Businessweek, who last week issued a preemptive “calm down” to the throngs of journalists, broadcasters and politically-aware fans itching to work their witticisms into the soccer-as-political-grudge-match conversation. Chill out, he says; thinking soccer could have any say in the realm of global affairs is “mass lunacy.” He’s right, the German’s systematic defeat of the Greece’s beloved Blue-White’s won’t spur any continental economic legislation or seal Greek’s fiscal fate. But maybe Broudway’s treatment of the match’s relevance is a tad too dismissive.
To deny the social influence of sports, especially in soccer-crazed Europe, is to forget about a history of cultural milestones. Less than two weeks before Germany and Greece met on the pitch, international tensions between Poland and Russia, together with a poorly-scheduled game-time resulted in violent riots on the streets of Warsaw. For a brighter recollection, think only of the Miracle on Ice, the 1995 Rugby World Cup or you name that sporting-event-turned-movie. For better and for worse, athletics have an undeniable ability to inspire and incite.
But what’s behind this potential? Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has written and spoken widely on the topic of “earned happiness.” It’s difficult to think of a realm that encourages earned happiness more than athletics. Sports pit conflicting dreams of teams, cities, nations against each other and promise fulfillment to the winner. Done fairly, competition even maximizes potential for all involved parties.
Imagine the consequence of a Greek victory. No, a victory wouldn’t have paid back billions of euros of debt, but it might have reaffirmed the possibility of achievement for a people decimated by a burdensome fiscal situation. It may have at least modeled the idea of earned happiness for a society that today knows more about learned dependency.
Who knows, maybe that dream still exists for one of Europe’s debt-ridden nations. Germany’s next opponent? Italy. Squaring off on the other side of the bracket? Portugal and Spain. Soccer fans and the globally-concerned can at least speculate about the cultural implications of the coming week of soccer, and what it has to say to Europe’s present economic context. Vamos!