Greece has a long tradition in sports as the birthplace of the Olympic Games. All athletes at some point have tried to describe the feeling of competing on behalf of their country, and usually they can’t find the words. Hearing the national anthem being played for them and their success is truly one of the most beautiful sentiments the world of sports can offer.
Spectators often experience the same feelings when they flood the stadiums to witness history in the making. They chant in unison their national anthem willing their teams and their athletes to go faster, higher, further, where no woman or man ever made it. Camaraderie is everywhere as strangers share their love for sports. And when the unthinkable happens, a goal is scored, a record is broken, a match is decided at the final point, the crowd erupts into thunderous applause, screaming on top of their lungs cheering for their country.
This beautiful sentiment is often spoiled by negative images, often seen all over the world, particularly when it comes to the “king of sports”, football. An extremely lucrative industry, football has loyal fans all over the world. However, once in the stadium, fanaticism slowly creeps into the collective soul of the crowd. As soon as something goes wrong, the crowd explodes into unprecedented violence and racist comments, bringing out the worst traits mankind possesses.
Greece is no stranger to such images. In a country where the football club preference is more important than political opinions (football results are a far more common conversation topic than the political and economic situation in Greece) certain events, such as the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the FIBA Basketball World Cup, unite the country. Especially after the herculean victory of the UEFA European Championship in 2004, the entire country dances at the rhythm of the national team, praising their heroes.
Nonetheless, if the result is not the desired, then the blue and white stadium is shaken by the roar. The atmosphere becomes suffocating because of the smoke bombs that get smuggled in despite the heavy security. The deafening racial slurs are the only thing the players can hear. Things get out of control and people get hurt. The smoke is the only thing the crowd sees and smells as the sign which reads “Say no to racism” slowly disappears. The celebratory atmosphere of fair play reeks of war, as the more primitive human instincts awake.
Hooliganism is a scourge that shows no signs of weakness, as it prays on the most fundamental aspects of the human psyche: the will to exterminate the enemies. There is no easy way to counter such phenomena but it is possible, as evidenced by the once notorious British fans. We will learn at some point that the primary goal of sports is to celebrate human excellence and not to revel in our differences. Let’s hope that we do not destroy the beauty of sports in the process.