It’s Soccer Time!

Finally, Euro 2012 has begun!

Standings after Day 1: Russia (3 pts), Greece (1 pt), Poland (1 pt), Czech Republic (0 pts)

Everyone else is still nil by default, since they haven’t played yet.

I like soccer.  I like it better than hockey (and stating that online may have caused my Canadian citizenship to be revoked), because I can actually follow a game without getting dizzy, matches are 90 minutes and can end on a draw in most cases, and the players aren’t covered head to toe in padding.  Soccer (or football outside of North America) is also relatively easy for anyone to play, making it truly an international sport.  All one really needs for soccer is something to kick around, a place to run around kicking that something, and a spot to kick that something in to score a goal.  Everything else is extra.  Basic skill needed to play: the ability to run and kick.  I admit that I am rather uncoordinated, but even I can play soccer.  To a degree, just about everyone can, and there are relatively simple ways to modify the game so that people unable to walk can play as well.  By contrast, even street hockey requires that each player have a stick, and to learn actual hockey requires mastery of skating first.

I have been looking forward to Euro 2012 for months.  The qualifying tournament is spread out over two years.  There are only 16 teams who ultimately qualify, but there are over three times that many European countries that initially compete.  The Vatican City and Monaco are the only two countries that do not, while Turkey, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, the Faroe Islands, and Israel also play in the European league.  The United Kingdom is split into four competing teams.  I was watching the coverage from Ireland last fall and got to follow five games over the course of an evening.  [I also had the dubious distinction of watching the Ireland vs. Russia match with three burly Irishmen – I was very relieved when the match ended in a draw!]

I have to say that I am disappointed in the controversy surrounding the tournament, however.  I am against racism and the exploitation of women, but that really isn’t what a soccer tournament is about.  Racism is bound to happen in any environment where the “us vs. them” factor really boils down to what colour your jersey is.  Let’s face it – if you’re going to berate someone for cheering for a different team than you, it’s not a big stretch to berate someone for having a different skin colour!  Deplorable behaviour?  Yes, but not surprising.  It also isn’t surprising that different parts of Europe have different attitudes to race and racism.  What any of that controversy boils down to is people pointing and going “Look!  We’re so much more enlightened!”  We’re not.

As for the exploitation of women, that is a matter of laws and better policing.  It is a good issue to be aware of, however.  I also don’t think it is entirely a local problem.

Ultimately, if I have any opinion beyond wanting to get back to the soccer part, it is that Western Europe needs to stop looking at Eastern Europe as though they are a half-sibling from the woman their father left their mother for.  Poland and Ukraine are every bit as much a part of Europe as Germany and France.  Look how much they have changed in a hundred years: in 1912, Poland was a rump state completely absorbed into the Russian Empire, while Ukraine was literally what its name means – the borderlands of Russia and Austro-Hungary.  Ukraine has been hastily assembled like a patchwork quilt, and this is the first time they have hosted such a big tournament in their own right as a country.  Poland and Ukraine managed to set aside their differences and co-host the biggest sporting event in Europe.  This is impressive.  End of story.

All right, BACK TO THE SOCCER!!!

As an ethnic Canadian, it has been a very long time since I have been part of Europe, so I have my teams to cheer for lined up in descending order of preference as follows:

1)      IRELAND!!!!  (But they’re in Group C with Spain and Italy.  Here’s hoping that those two handsome teams make a lot of mistakes!)

2)      England

3)      Russia (They made it to the semi-final last time.)

4)      Greece – because they need something to cheer about.

But who am I really kidding?

GO IRELAND!

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