Higher and higher

Last night, Rehhagel’s boys, our boys, made history. The simple fact that they managed to lead Greece into the finals of one of the two biggest international soccer championships is something that defied all expectations. They united Greeks from all over the world in joyful celebration; they brought us out onto the streets where, for a change, it was joy rather than protest that connected us. They warmed our hearts, inspiring thousands of Greeks to rush to their side, while the rest of us remained beside them in spirit. Those who had dismissed yesterday’s match as «just a game» failed to grasp how important these events are to our lives. What we should focus on is the significance of our enthusiasm and our joy, of our overwhelming pride, of the passion with which all of us – especially the young – held our flag aloft and sung our national anthem. This shows that we are a people intent on progress. Burdened by problems, pressures and a culture of grumbling, we thirst for success, distinction and recognition, for a shining achievement to unite us, to remind us that we are Greek, that we are all «in the same boat» and that we can work together for our common advancement, as our national team has done. It is a thirst for distinction but also for national reconciliation, a thirst which – when satisfied – inspires us to run out onto the streets and rejoice together, and which would probably inspire us in the same way in other fields if we were able to count on Rehhagel and his 23 players. And we should demand that the Greek flag be raised in these other fields too. Soccer, the most popular of sports, which catches the attention of just about every Greek, has managed both to show our thirst for distinction and the way in which we can achieve our goals. It is remarkable how every commentator – whether he or she belongs to the left or the right of the political spectrum – has pointed out the same lessons to be learned from the Greek team’s successes. We want to succeed and we know what needs to be done to achieve this. Not just in soccer but in every sphere. And yet, those at the reins of the biggest «national squad» – the country – are unable to act like the coach of our national soccer team. Perhaps that is because, as Rehhagel has said, when you are winning your mood is great. Our politicians usually have to deal with people whose mood is less than great, who are struggling to survive or to hold on to hard-won benefits. Politics, business, labor, sports and too many other aspects of Greek life have been distorted for so many years that any changes always provoke the greatest possible reaction. This political cost has frozen so many political leaders and kept them from carrying out promised reforms. (It is a little like Rehhagel not being able to pick his team and tactics, nor to make any substitutions). That is why the lesson of the national soccer squad is more than the need for seriousness, team work, and so on. It is also that everyone has to have the same aim – indeed, they have to be playing the same game.