Own goal

In sports, Greece acts out its politics. Club owners use their teams as levers for pressure; fans express their loyalty to the idea of true sportsmanship (a vision often scorned in reality), while party leaders and ministers wholeheartedly undertake to defend the interest of any team that is «slaughtered by the referee,» or «unfairly dealt with by the capital’s teams.» In an act of unusual generosity, politicians may even erase the huge debts accumulated by soccer or basketball clubs, or remake the league so as to promote clubs which then give them their vote. In its much-sung cradle, sports is as lawful as the regime controlling the distribution of airtime. Greece’s soccer fields, however, proved too small to accommodate this game of politics and, for this reason, we have expanded onto foreign turf. All of a sudden, a match for the UEFA cup, in second-class competition, which should only concern Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce supporters, was pronounced a historical turning point. Believing that theatrical staging could disguise the genuine problems that shadow relations between the two countries and that soccer can triumph over a history of conflict, the architects of «Greek-Turkish rapprochement» staged a show of niceties but failed to consider the rest of the protagonists present at every sports event: the fans, the banners, the slogans, the clashes. This is more or less how the bilateral vision of the European soccer championship was affixed to the international vision of the Athens 2004 Olympics. This may serve Turkey’s foreign policy objectives perfectly but does little to change the people’s sentiments on either side of the Aegean. The fact that half of our ministers, unable to control their aspirations, seem to be more concerned with Euro 2008 than with the fate of Cyprus as foreseen by the impending UN proposals, is nothing but an expected own goal.

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