Feature

How soccer is healing Europe

Is rabid nationalism fading as Europeans learn to get along?

What happenedSpain’s national soccer team returned home to a hero’s welcome Monday after beating Germany 1-0 to win the Euro 2008 championship. It was Spain’s first major championship in 44 years. “A football victory on this level strengthens the unity in a country,” Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said. (The Washington Post)

What the commentators saidSoccer has such power to stir up “tribal feelings” that a Dutch coach once famously said, “Soccer is war,” said Ian Buruma in the Los Angeles Times. But there was “harmony” on the field and in the stands this year that showed that Europe is moving beyond the memory of its wars, as national pride makes way for “a new European spirit.”

Look at the team rosters and you’ll see one reason, said Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post. “The ethnic composition of the teams is nowadays as fluid as the ethnic composition of the nations they claim to represent,” so the players are at the forefront of a new, “multicultural goodwill” in Europe.

Fans can still go nuts for their team, said Shlomi Barzel in the Israeli daily Haaretz. But this year’s peaceful championship proved that “violence, racism, and hooliganism have been abolished,” and “that patriotism and nationalism are not necessarily declarations of war.”

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