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A challenging Euro 2020

A European Championship always reflects the way we in Europe shape our lives together.

Four things in particular have stood out to me so far in this tournament.

June 12 was a day when a continent felt close to a Danish football player. Christian Eriksen had to be resuscitated on the pitch.

His team-mates, who immediately formed a circle around him, intuitively knew how to stand by him in this stressful situation. It was palpable how much his privacy was worth to them. They protected his dignity in this difficult hour. It was an enormously moving event.

The collective sympathy of everyone in the stadium in Copenhagen, Danes and Finns alike, was deep – including those who had been fearing for Christian Eriksen from afar.

The next game was interrupted in his honour in the 10th minute, and everyone applauded him, including opponents and referees.

After the final whistle, Denmark’s coach Kasper Hjulmand and Belgian Romelu Lukaku, who had dedicated his goal to his Inter team-mate Eriksen in the previous match, hugged each other. You didn’t have to hear what they were talking about, but you could tell what they were about.

When Eriksen was fortunately rescued, many questions arose: What is allowed to be shown on television, what is not? What is reporting, where does voyeurism begin?

Did the men and women in the director’s office and at the camera act responsibly? And when is it allowed and when should it continue?

These discussions revealed the quality of our free community.

In Europe, different positions have the same justification. This includes the Danes’ later criticism of the continuation of the play.

An international debate ignited over a political gesture. Teams from England, Wales and Belgium have been kneeling before their games, one time that from Scotland.

With this symbolism from the Black Lives Matter movement, with which NFL pro Colin Kaepernick originally protested against racism, they remind us that we all have equal rights and that these rights are violated again and again. Minorities are discriminated all over the world.

Many people draw strength from the fact that they exclude a group and ascribe negative characteristics to it.

That is wrong, and it is also unnecessary. I don’t need an enemy image for my identity; I don’t become stronger through exclusion, but through cooperation.

In the long run, success in a football team can only be achieved if people accept and appreciate each other’s differences. Of course, that also applies to the opponent. And in football, a foul is a foul, no matter who commits it.

The England team has faced racism at a number of away games in recent years.

In Bulgaria, there were monkey sounds against Raheem Sterling.

Now the team is drawing strength from the kneeling. Gareth Southgate explained its significance in an open letter to the nation.

“It is their duty,” England’s coach wrote of his players, “to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice.”

The gesture was criticised and defamed in some places. Conservative English politicians rejected it, the kneeling Belgians were booed in the stadiums of Budapest and St Petersburg, and football officials called it “populism”.

But the symbol is well established in team sports. It is a strong signal in dealing with other identities that everyone understands.

It is an important joint declaration that skin colour does not matter. It is also an inward reassurance for each individual as to whom he or she is willing to form bonds with. The gesture cannot therefore be populist.

Very much attention in Europe, especially in Germany, caused another symbol of diversity.

The mayor of the city of Munich wanted to illuminate the arena in rainbow colours on the day of the match between Germany and Hungary to send a signal against homophobia and the Hungarian legislation.

UEFA rejected this because the message directly targeted a decision of the parliament and therefore violated the association’s political neutrality requirement.

COVID-19 challenge

This ban drew a lot of criticism – from the LGBTIQ community to conservative parties. In response, other stadium operators from Germany have colorfully lit their arenas that evening out of solidarity with oppressed sexual minorities.

Lastly, Europe still faces the challenge posed to all of us by the COVID-19, this time by the Delta variant.

How can the tournament be conducted responsibly?

How do the various countries support each other? As is well known, the virus does not stop at borders, but only at sensible decisions. These, especially internationally, are not always free of conflict.

The Eriksen case has shown what solidarity is all about. That’s how civilization works best. The Danish team is now acting more than ever as a collective, and the connection to their compatriots is visibly strengthened.

But their sense of community is not directed against anyone.

And the Danes’ opponents sympathise with them.

Of course, the European Championship is great fun, we also experience other great teams.

But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. After me, the deluge – that would be the wrong sign.

Week after week, day after day, incidence figures and other criteria must be observed.

Where the final will be held, whether in London as planned or somewhere else, as was under discussion, is secondary. The answer can only be: where it is safe.

The suffering of the virus has been felt by every nation, some earlier, some later, some less, some more. “Public health must be a priority,” says Boris Johnson.

In Moscow, the fan zone has been closed.

It is clear, of course, that the same rules do not apply everywhere.

Euro 2020 shows us that Europe has different conditions, and that even a football tournament requires constant negotiation. That’s the way it is in a democracy.

Note: Philipp Lahm was talking to Oliver Fritsch, Zeit Online.

Author

  • Philipp Lahm is the tournament director for Euro 2024. His “Views of a footballer” column will appear regularly in The Sunday Times of Malta. It is produced in partnership with Oliver Fritsch at Zeit Online, the German online magazine, and is being published in several European countries.

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