Football ... unites! Foto: EPA
Football ... unites! Foto: EPA

The average life expectancy is rising, the number of wars and the proportion of deaths in them have decreased. Fewer and fewer people have to struggle to just survive day by day. Humans have more and more free time that they can invest in other activities such as sports.

I have been making a living as a sports journalist for the last 20 years. From my very first steps in this profession it quickly became clear, what the relations are between the various content fields of this activity. You are right - sports journalism has never been ranked very highly. Why would 22 people kicking a ball be important and interesting to the wider community at all? Why do you follow ten basketball players trying to push or squeeze a ball through a hoop that stands a bit more than three meters above the ground? Yes, sport is primarily set for entertainment, which was already well known to the ancient Romans. They watched gladiatorial fights in the stands at the Colosseum, while key political decisions were made much higher (and safer) in more private boxes.

Does sport (journalism) in its essence encompass anything more than just describing events? Is it just the blue team beating the white team? Or supposedly vulgar fans who throw flares on the pitch and drive away families with their boorish behavior? Can sport transcend the limitations of its playground, its boundaries, and address a wider crowd? Can it even say something about community?


Caring for fellow human beings

Margaret Mead. Foto: AP
Margaret Mead. Foto: AP

But first, we need to devote a word or two to the question of what a community is all about and when it was formed. In doing so, it's hard to go past Margaret Mead’s thoughts. When the famous anthropologist was asked when civilization began, she replied, to the surprise of many, 15,000 years ago. As proof, she offered a preserved human femur. It was healed, which Mead described as key difference between the animal world and civilization. The femur is the longest bone in our body. It connects the hip to the knee. In a society where medicine is not (yet) present, such a bone heals only after six weeks of rest. For Mead, however, the healed bone was proof of the origin of civilization. A broken bone is a death sentence in the animal kingdom. A creature with such an injury could not escape looming (and hungry) danger. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, means that someone took care of the injured person, brought them food and drink, and defended them from possible peril. Isn't caring for a fellow human being also proof of community?

When we want to find the first evidence of the origin, emergence, and presence of sport, we need to set our time machine to about the same time in history, maybe even earlier. When we set the coordinates of spacetime to France and 17,300 years back, we find ourselves in the caves of Lascaux with its famous preserved paintings. Today, we interpret the exceptional Paleolithic depiction of life primarily as proof of the presence of culture, but we can also calmly add to it the beginnings of sport. The depictions show that the contemporary man was also involved in running and wrestling.

The unfortunate person, who injured his femur, may have suffered a fracture while fleeing from a fast predator, perhaps while building a dwelling, or while climbing a fruit tree that hid its most delicious fruits on the most fragile branch, or possibly while chasing an object reminiscent of today’s football. Why not?

From Egypt to ancient Greece

The modern Olympic Games are also associated with the ancient ones by lighting a fire in Olympia. Foto: AP
The modern Olympic Games are also associated with the ancient ones by lighting a fire in Olympia. Foto: AP

As we go forward from that point in time and approach our age and this moment, we encounter many cultures that also describe sport and sporting activities in their rich records of everyday life. Traces of hunting, boxing, wrestling and even sports similar to today's polo are traceable back to the Mesopotamian period. Stories of wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, rowing, fishing and various ball games were part of ancient Egypt. Sports activities connected people into a community, strengthened relationships and consolidated the identity of humanity.

An urgent stop must be made in ancient Greece, where the first Olympic Games took place in 776 BC. The event initially had a major religious component as it was an expression of the attitude towards and the worship of Zeus, but later became a sporting, cultural and universal social event. The Games eventually became extremely important, as victory represented a great honor for the Greek state or colony, which the individual Olympic champion came from. The event itself was highly respected. Every community that wanted to participate in the games showed signs of approval. This is best evidenced by the mandatory military ceasefire that took place between the Games themselves. Special runners visited all cities where they announced the start of the truce. This was important from the very logistical need to allow competitors and visitors to travel safely to Olympia, where the Games took place. The army was not allowed to enter the venue during the Games, wars and legal disputes were stopped, and the use of the death penalty was banned. Sport therefore united. It was the source of peace. Although this only lasted a short time during a four-year period, sport undoubtedly played a positive role.

The games lasted continuously for more than a millennium, before the cut was made in 394. Ironically, the cause of this was religious. At the end of the fourth century, Christianity became the state religion, and the Olympic Games, held somewhere far away, were only an echo of some pagan ritual.

At the end of the 19th century, the games were revived by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who relied heavily on ancient tradition in the process. You cannot overlook a strong military imprint in the visual images. There were important sports in ancient Greece that showed the qualities and features of the best soldiers. They had to run fast (both naked and in military armor), be successful in javelin and discus, chariot races and wrestling. In short, it was a combination of the ideal soldier. Not surprisingly, de Coubertin invented the modern pentathlon. This sport is not very popular today, but the baron was driven by his desire to invent a sport in which to find the perfect soldier. Pentathlon thus consists of shooting, fencing, swimming, horseback riding and running. In 1912, it became part of the Olympic family, where it persists to this day.

A Christmas football truce

A scene from a football match between soldiers, which was staged in the film Joyeux Noel (2005). Foto: YouTube
A scene from a football match between soldiers, which was staged in the film Joyeux Noel (2005). Foto: YouTube

Just over two years later, one of the most famous meshes of war and sport took place as a link between different communities, the murderous and painful interests of superpowers and the individuals trapped as pawns on the chessboard of no man’s land and grandiose ambitions. It was December 1914, just a few months after the outbreak of World War I. The fighting had been going on for only a few months, no one knew that it would drag on for almost four more years. At several points on the Western Front, an unusual event occurred on Christmas Day - a spontaneous truce. Both English and German soldiers each began muttering and singing Holy Night in their own language. The men spontaneously laid down their weapons, climbed out of their trenches, risked their lives, and exposed themselves to the enemy. This was not driven by hatred, as they were sent against their will to an unknown land, where they shot at foreigners. All they wanted was to return home as soon as possible, where they could fall into the arms of their loved ones. But they exposed themselves to this very enemy, offered him a hand and established a (much too) short truce. Several different sources state that the soldiers played a football match. I can't imagine a stronger anti-war symbol than a football match between two sides that had killed members of the opposite side, of the opposite team the day before.

Many people understand and interpret sport as war and matches as battles. Unfortunately, the jargon of sports journalism is still too intertwined with military words (fight, bunker, battle, hit, shot, formation, missile, target, blitzkrieg…). Too often it lacks a view of what it really is - a game. Athletes play, athletes do not fight and do not fire missiles against enemy formations. If anyone felt this difference the most, it was the soldiers at the previously described Christmas truce.

It only lasted a bit more than a day. The interest of the decision-makers hidden in safe havens (like the most influential Romans in the safe areas of the Colosseum) once again prevailed over humanity. The people who had sent the ball past the opposing goalkeeper into the goal the day before had replaced the ball with ammunition and the goal with soldiers on the opposite side.

Football has taken over

Group viewing of a World Cup match. The photo was taken in 2018 in Warsaw. Foto: EPA
Group viewing of a World Cup match. The photo was taken in 2018 in Warsaw. Foto: EPA

In the century that followed, football became the most popular, widespread, and watched sport. It has spread into many pores of (public) life, so it is generally accepted that it is considered to be the most important secondary activity in the world (footballers and football enthusiasts, of course, would delete the word secondary). World Cups have become the center of the world, as was the case for the ancient Olympics. The most skillful football players gather once every four years, fans flock to venues from many countries, although some at the tournament can't even cheer for their national team because they didn't qualify. Images from football matches are sent to all parts of the world. Just about everyone can see the festival of sport and respect. True, there is only room for one at the top of the pyramid, in the end only one is left, that lifts the trophy and bathes in the glare of the cameras. But sport is a game, sport is an arena of fair play. A place where different communities meet and fans speaking different languages ​​respect each other. Aren't these images of fans in different jerseys and symbols, who share respect both before and after the match, the most beautiful part of World Cups, regardless of the outcome? Isn't this a football holiday? A holiday of passion? A holiday of belonging not only to your immediate community, but to the world?

That being said I don't stick to the ideal images of football that happen once every four years. It is not just honey and milk that drip out of football. And what is most interesting, football is a reflection of society. The problems and disproportions that we find in society, we, sooner or later, also find in football. Maybe even earlier in football.

At the time of the financial and economic crisis, which last hit us with its long tail more than a decade ago, there was a lot of talk about the 99:1 ratio. These numbers symbolized the fact that a handful of people (at least in most communities) own the vast majority of (mostly material) goods. This also applies to football. As a matter of fact these ratios were true before. The economic crisis just intensified them. The richest clubs are becoming even wealthier, and the gap to most of the rest is only deepening. Just think of the biggest football symbols, of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. They earned about €30 million in 2010 with their salaries and extra earnings. Ten years later that sum exceeded €100 million by far.

A king cannot exist without his subjects and extras. But these are not the ones Messi is nutmegging on the pitch, they still receive seven-figure sums on an annual basis. The extras are the ones we don't even hear about.

The multifaceted role of migration

Loic Ravenel about migrations

Let’s move to migration. In recent years, we can read about huge migrations from the east and south towards the west of Europe. Many migrants want to come to the richest European countries, where they would pursue their dreams, but most of them are often stopped on their way and sent to countries they did not want to go to. This has long been the case in the football world, where most want to go to the Promised Land, such as England, Spain and Italy. All football migrants have these dreams, but only a handful fulfil them. The majority experience a different reality - playing in significantly lower quality and lower paid leagues, like, after all, the Slovenian Prva liga. Agents send these players as cheap labor to different parts of Europe, where minimal earnings and mere hope await them. Every year, more than 1,500 Brazilians come to Europe, mainly through Portugal, and only a handful become household names.

But football migrations unexpectedly also paint a better picture, which can only show its positive effect in the long run. In 2014, the German national football team became world champion. Four years later France won the World Cup. Both golden stories surprisingly have a few things in common, that go beyond the mere obvious realization that in both countries, football is by far the most popular sport and therefore a lot of money flows through it and because of that, the quality football is high. Many members of both national teams are migrants or descendants of immigrants from other countries. In Germany's case, the connection with Turkey is obvious, and in France's with the African continent. Football thus played an important role as a bridge of assimilation between immigrants and the rest of the population. Isn't this the new power of sport? Which transcends different communities? And offers a reward for a new creation? The prize, of course, is not the laurels and a piece of tin that comes to the winner, but the realization that football unites.

Perhaps this image is false for many, as sometimes only 90 minutes have to go by and a footballer with foreign roots becomes an Ausländer (too) quickly after a bad match.

So, is my view of sports and football too illusory?


The community has power and meaning in its volume

Sorodna novica Nogometni velikani kot Gordon Gekko: Pohlep je dober

The twists and turns of football in recent days gave the last piece of proof of the power of football. And communities. The twelve richest clubs formed the Super League in April, a closed competition in which clubs would play against each other. No one could be relegated from this artificial competition. This would also mean the end of extremely high-quality national championships across Europe and the breakup of the football pyramid that we have known for many years. A pyramid that, at least in theory, allowed anyone to break through from the bottom to the top. The idea of ​​the Super League was born in the minds of US conglomerates, which own most of these clubs and operate solely by the logic that sport and football are an investment with which you can make a profit that far exceeds the invested capital.

At that point, the market logic was wrong and it broke. Fans, who were unfamiliar with the idea, resisted. Football clubs are more than just news to fervorous fans, more than the result you hear in the evening news or catch a glimpse of on the phone while browsing. Football is a passion, clubs represent identification and an identity that for many, like a DNA helix, is twisted and passed down between generations.

English fans played a big role in the Super League clash. Foto: EPA
English fans played a big role in the Super League clash. Foto: EPA

The power of the fans won. The community overcame the greed for more and more that was destroying the core of football. And the core of the same community.

Cynics will, of course, remark that football has long since ceased to be equal and that greed has long been an indispensable part of football. Which is probably true. The position of the majority on the pyramid is so low that they can only dream of breaking through to the top.

However, the (apparent) victory of football fans is symbolic. It represents a beacon to many other communities that are fighting their battles - for drinking water, a cleaner environment, better working conditions or a fairer distribution of goods. The community has power and meaning in its volume.

Football has already proven that.