OPINION

Sports and patriotism

Investments in Greek athletics have suffered a crash just as devastating as that suffered by the Athens Stock Exchange, only this time the victims are not some million (naive or simply profit-driven) investors but thousands of youngsters who invested patriotism and enthusiasm in the commercialization of sports. The experience is exceptionally useful for young Greeks invited to compete on various levels, but who, instead of experiencing spiritual satisfaction, only feel frustration in their search for a bogus reality. Indeed, the old British sentiment coined in the phrase «It’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts» has no place in modern society. Athletes who won gold medals for Greece in the past but were excluded during these Games should not be regarded as unworthy or dishonorable, as they did nothing that different than foreign counterparts. And neither can we hope there will be some form of catharsis on an international level, that anabolic steroids will be banned, that we will see the spirit of athletics prevail – because such a prospect goes against the spirit of the commercialism characterizing most modern sporting events. At stake for the political elite here is the successful organization of the Olympic Games in Athens which – until now – has been achieved. The commercial show has been running smoothly, revenues are much smaller than anticipated, but then there is always the risk of that at such events. Both the Euro 2004 soccer championship in Portugal and the first week in the Olympic Games showed that Greeks are permeated by patriotic sentiment which – against global contemporary trends – was suppressed over the previous eight years. Naive reformists tried to mutate the makeup of the Greek people disregarding the fact that their internationalist ideas have not taken root in any of the countries they hold dear. Nationalism in the United States, for example, is so strong that Americans deem they have the finest political system in the world and they seek to export. Otherwise, they think, human civilization will come under threat. One may disagree with Washington’s policies but still find it hard to question whether the motives are patriotic or nationalistic, at least in the case of most Americans. Governments in Britain have rigorously promoted national priorities, opting out from a number of European Union regulations. Finally, nationalism is very much alive in France and most other European countries. Patriotism or nationalism is not an outdated concept in contemporary politics. Nor have nations undergone some sudden transformation in modernity. It is simply that the Greek political elite of previous years nourished fantasies of a world without nation-states and national interests. Patriotism in Greece is running high. The problem is that it finds expression only in soccer or track-and-field competitions. The political system and, above all, the government must lend patriotism a new content and channel its energy into ageless goals that will not bring about a sad uniformity, causing instead Greece’s national particularities to flourish, in what would be a creative contribution to European integration.