Sports and politics

Since ancient times, sport has gone hand-in-hand with politics. These days, particularly in soccer – an immensely popular game as well as a highly lucrative business – the relationship is closer than ever. And what has this led to? Political exploitation and its twin sister, the impunity of business people, corruption (the Berlusconi phenomenon is hardly unique to Italy; the difference is that all-mighty soccer-club owners in other countries pull the strings from backstage), nationalism (even war broke out in Central America because of a 1969 soccer match), and violence (massive but never unchecked – as it is always guided, although not always planned beforehand). In some countries, teams are identified with political parties (Cyprus), religious creeds (Scotland), or ideologies (Lazio fans have never kept a secret of their fascist bent). In the former communist states the military and the police had their own teams, while Real Madrid will always be considered the team of Spain’s Franco regime. In Greece, although some teams have been favored by different governments, fans have always kept their team and party flags separate. Are we facing the end of that era? If we are to give an affirmative answer, we must first accept that people are above all subjects of Olympiakos or Panathinaikos – that they are the property of the club owners and not individuals with ideas, needs and feelings that reach beyond the soccer pitch. It’s largely up to the government whether Panathinaikos shall give up their green jerseys for blue ones and Olympiakos their red jerseys for green ones. Should the government efforts to eradicate soccer violence be limited to punishing Olympiakos and Panionios, it will merely vindicate those who now see an orchestrated attempt to exterminate their team. A selective application of the law will amount to showing the red card to the principle of equality before the law.