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Opinion

Has Euro 2020 finally brought some much needed perspective to football?

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Expert
21st June, 2021
15

The luxury of 11pm Euro 2020 kick-offs has passed and many Australians now enter a period of sleep deprivation and desperate match catch-ups via the Optus Sport app.

If there ever was a worse combination in world sport, it is a European-based event with interested Australians keen to follow it.

Of course there is no solution, nor will there ever be, barring the implementation of a plan mooted by a football colleague of mine who suggested the federal government re-jig the work hours of all Australians during major football tournaments.

Personally, I think he might be living in a football fantasy land. But hey, let him dream.

The tournament appears to have become something of a timely reminder of all the beauty, controversy and melodrama that comes around each and every time the world gathers to kick the sphere.

That reminder was undoubtedly required after COVID-19 tore a horrific path through many European nations over the last 18 months.

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While Australia may have fared relatively well when it comes to mitigating infection rates and deaths, enjoying the luxury of managing the pandemic in relative isolation compared to much of the globe, over 1.1 million Europeans have perished.

The early days of the global killer saw Italy and Spain hit hardest before the spread engulfed most of the continent, sending panic and fear in all directions.

Football, as a billion-dollar industry, was hit hard. As loved ones lost their lives and people huddled up in isolation at home, a continent also lost its greatest outlet and release. That is the role football plays in its spiritual home.

France fans

(LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)

It is not overstated to suggest that football is a core component in the fabric of European life; one that diverts attention from struggle, inspires and emotionally satisfies most people far more compellingly than any other endeavour, game or art form.

It is for that reason, and after a lengthy delay that saw the tournament postponed a full 12 months, that the event was destined to be pervaded by a different tone and atmosphere. There was never any chance that Euro 2020 would be a business-as-usual event, with football simply triggering a return to the way things were.

Far from it.

The tournament has felt somewhat understated, humble and respectful, with those able to secure tickets in restricted crowds openly celebrating and appreciating that privilege.

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The players have participated with joy, competitiveness and potentially a new-found appreciation of the honour they receive each and every time they are selected to represent their country on the world stage.

There has been little animosity, bar some shenanigans involving beverages at press conferences and football as a game has looked better for it.

Euro 2020 may well be the moment we identify as a time of sporting clarity and perspective, where all involved took on a new appreciation and understanding of just what the pandemic took away and why football is so important to us all.

Spain fans

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

The horrific scenes of Christian Eriksen falling limply to the turf further enunciated the mood. People had already embraced the tournament with a sense of relief and perspective, before the Dane’s medical episode potentially reminded them further of the fragility of health and the simple existence of football as a game with far less importance than life itself.

A favourite saying of mine is ‘what you see depends on where you stand’. It encapsulates perspective in the most succinct way.

At Euro 2020 the manner in which all fans have celebrated the magnificence of Italy in the group stages and the universal pleasure created by Belgian, Hungarian and German moments all seemed less parochial than before.

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Even English and Scottish supporters entered their duel with something less than the usual do-or-die attitude, both more appreciative of the fact that it was actually being staged at all.

Rather interestingly, it was only a few short months back that European football was threatened by the most sordid and perspective-lacking proposal, in the form of the seemingly now defunct European Super League.

The fans categorically said no to the money-hungry owners’ grab for cash, perhaps more passionately than ever due the events of 2020 and their altered perspective on life and football.

That attitude bled into Euro 2020, a tournament looming as well and truly up for grabs. It has been a treat to watch and somewhat redemptive when looked at through the lens of humanity, community and football.

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The game has once again shown its universal ability to please hearts, change minds and ultimately, bring us together.

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