We have a tendency to use sports success as a national mood enhancer and evidence of superiority. Greece is not the only country where this is the case. In fact, the national (and nationalist) use and abuse of sporting victories is a global phenomenon that is also to a large degree responsible for the prevalence of doping.
Where Greece stands out from the rest is that it can brag that this habit dates back to a 3,000-year tradition, from a time when city-states used the Olympic victories of their athletes to boost citizens’ morale. We can still recall the boasts about “winning Greek genes” touted during the 2004 Athens Olympics – which proved so destructive to the economy – albeit aided at times by banned chemical substances.
When it comes to victories by young athletes in particular, we adults like to use them as a psychological anabolic steroid and an opportunity to preach some moral lesson or other. This was the case following the victory of the under-18 national basketball team at the European Championship in the town of Volos on Sunday night. More or less the same team of young men had taken fourth place just a few weeks earlier in the FIBA Under-19 World Championship in Iraklio, in Crete. But we didn’t pay too much attention to them at the time. Their victory did not become a nationwide topic of discussion.
Why? Does it need asking? Because they didn’t come first; because we have embraced the notion that first is first and second is nothing. You can only imagine how low fourth place ranks.
If we want to draw some lessons from the successes of our country’s young athletes, even if they will be forgotten in a day or two, we should recall the wise words on team spirit from former national basketball coach Panayiotis Yiannakis, who had said that a good assist makes two people happy.
In Iraklio and Volos, the national youth squad showed us that they’re a good team. It didn’t matter which clubs they all played for. They were unaffected by the poison being spread by club-affiliated sports media. Team captain Vassilis Haralambopoulos, a special talent indeed, did not raise the cup on his own as is often the case; he called Giorgos Papagiannis and Dionysis Skoulidas to his side. Last but not least, they all took the time to express their love for one of their most avid fans, a young disabled boy.
That is all great. But was it really necessary for the boys to be awarded alongside Achilleas Beos, mayor of Volos and former owner of the Olympiakos Volou soccer team [charged with match-fixing and other criminal activities]? Did he have to be given an award too? And, if so, for what contribution to sports exactly?