It’s the opening moments of the second quarterfinal of this year’s European championships. Greece takes on Germany in another football installment of David versus Goliath and this one is rife with political undertones, something international football is always good for every couple years. The camera man cuts to German chancellor Angela Merkel as she takes her seat in the caverns of Gdansk Arena. The DJ brought in from Düsseldorf ironically spins the catchy and equally terrible track “I’m glad you came” – he said he was a friend of Kraftwerk, the official in charge reminds himself to always check references.
The Greek supporters grin sheepishly – “hey look, it’s mom.”
The symbolism in the lead up to Europe’s clash of the responsible versus the brash is intriguing. Writing those words was tough. Except for rare circumstances – Jesse Owens, John Carlos and Tommie Smith put their asses on the line for something they felt strongly about, zero qualms with that – I loathe the idea of sport being used as an allegory for real world problems that affect actual people and not their sports fandom. To hear some barstool historians tell it, the 1980 United States hockey team laid the groundwork for the fall of Communism.
If you’ve managed to avoid the words ‘Euro Zone in crisis’ during your daily newspaper perusals you cannot read. A number of countries involved in this year’s installment of the European Championships are mired in financial ruin. Ireland, Spain, and Italy – the list goes on, austerity has become the dirtiest nine letter word in Europe.
The merits of austerity aren’t championed on the streets of Athens. A bitter battle – pitting Greek lawmakers against their European counterparts, their own citizens and themselves- has led to political and social upheaval including four coalition governments in eight months(!). New Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has promised more cuts in order to appease their debtees at the European Union and IMF. To irresponsibly cut a complicated story short – the Greeks, facing massive debt issues, needed a bailout. Enter Germany. Negotiations led by Merkel resulted in a €240 billion rescue package, with Germany footing a large portion of the bill. In exchange, the Germans demanded heavy austerity, insisting the Greeks cut their pension programs, social programs and collect tax immediately. Try introducing these measures with an unemployment rate of 22% and you’ll understand why there have been four different coalitions in just over 240 days.
Samaras and his new government hope to renegotiate the loans in order to ease an already tumultuous domestic situation. Merkel needs to win an upcoming election and must show Germans her cabinet is capable of ensuring similar financial handouts never happen again.
In terms of football this will have little impact on the game. Kostas Katsouranis isn’t going to facetiously hand over a check to Bastian Schweinsteiger during pre match pleasantries – though how amazing would that be?
For Greek supporters it’s a different story. My barber compared Germany’s treatment of Greece to that of a mother scolding her child. ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that’ takes on new meaning when the orders aren’t coming from the person tucking you in at night. In the Greek papers Merkel has been depicted in SS garb countless times. According to the BBC over 70% of Greeks believe that Germany wants to bring in a “Fourth Reich”. Fantastic. Cartoons of fat, ouzo drinking, dancing Greeks have appeared in German papers. Even worse, a German MP offered to take Greece’s islands in order to cancel their debts – an overture that clearly didn’t sit well with a country that dealt with Nazi occupation.
Yes, Angela Merkel will be in attendance. No word yet on whether she’ll speak with her Greek counterpart -it’s not known if Samaras will be in attendance- before the game. What would be the point anyway. Shockingly Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani didn’t hammer out a Kashmir solution while watching India and Pakistan play in last year’s cricket world cup, though I suspect many pakoras were had.
While the game should provide an excellent display of tactical football against overwhelming talent, I’ll be keeping one eye on the luxury boxes high above. What kind of reception the German chancellor receives from the Hellas faithful will be interesting to say the least. My advice: sit with Otto Rehhagel and you’ll be fine, Angela.