When the Euro is also played on the political ground

Change of country, change of atmosphere for the Blues. After the calm turning to the indifference of the Munich population, they are plunged, since Wednesday, June 16, into a completely different context: in Hungary, the only country to offer a fully full stadium, the population is white-hot for this Euro where professional football is a matter of state. Air known to sports diplomacy, doubled here with financial interests, almost all of the first division clubs belonging to relatives of President Orban.

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Five years after a Euro 2016 disputed in France for fear of aftershocks from the terrorist attacks of 2015, political news has again appeared on the football field in a diplomatic register. Between the Turkish and Italian chanceries, we remained with posturing before the opening match: access to the stadium in Rome had been prohibited to Turkish supporters, officially for health reasons – reasons swept aside by President Erdogan as the Prime Minister Italian had dealt with “Dictator” in April.

The fear of a Ukraine-Russia in the final phase

But the big case occupying the front of the stage since the start of the Euro is a dispute over the Ukrainian jersey. It will return to the spotlight this Thursday, June 17, with the match between this country and North Macedonia, two nations having on the occasion of this Euro irritated their respective neighbors, Russia and Greece.

→ READ. Euro 2021: the jersey of discord between Russia and Ukraine

The dispute between Ukraine and Russia has been taken seriously by the European chancelleries and UEFA, as it concerns two countries which clashed quite recently, in Crimea. The Russians could not get anything about the map on the Ukrainian jersey which represents Crimea still belonging to Ukraine, as this map is officially recognized by the UN. On the other hand, they obtained the withdrawal of the inscription “Glory to our heroes”, which was judged by UEFA to be contrary to the principle of political neutrality.

Greece furious at North Macedonia jersey

The case of North Macedonia, Ukraine’s opponent, does not directly concern the Euro, since Greece, the complaining country, is not qualified. What is it about ? The Macedonians’ jersey only includes the name “Macedonia” without the specification “North”. Which is claimed by Greece: the presence of the word “North”, to clearly differentiate the country from the region of the same name in Greece was part of a 2018 treaty, ending nearly thirty years of conflict between the two nations . But UEFA has not budged on this issue, eager not to start a new fire when Greece is not playing.

“The real issue of this Euro is Ukraine-Russia, if these two nations meet in the quarter-finals, in Saint Petersburg. This possible match is the real political risk of this Euro ”, underlines political scientist Pascal Boniface, expert in sports diplomacy. He has been observing these sometimes violent skirmishes between countries for nearly thirty years, mostly located in the eastern part of Europe. “The break-up of the Soviet Union brought about the emergence of fifteen nations and that of Yugoslavia produced seven, he continues. All are in the same zone and all are registered with UEFA. “

Mathematically, the transition from 16 to 24 nations since 2016 opens the field to sensitive encounters. But Armenia’s non-qualification has undoubtedly avoided the worst. For example, what would an Armenia match in Baku have given, while Azerbaijan and Armenia are still opposing the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh?

A very political England-Scotland

We are not there for the other big diplomatico-sporting meeting of this weekend, a very Western England-Scotland, disputed this Friday, June 18 against a backdrop of Brexit and the temptation of Scottish independence. “It is the replica of the first international match in history, in 1872. Each time, it is an opportunity for the English to reaffirm their sporting grip which this time takes a political turn, continues Pascal Boniface. It should go well, but this Euro should not derogate from tradition: all the editions have been more or less agitated on the diplomatic level. “


When Franco refused to play against the Soviet Union

It started badly. Designed by the French Henri Delaunay to bring the peoples of Europe closer together, the first Euro in history, in 1960, was marked by the withdrawal of the Spanish team on the orders of General Franco. The dictator had forbidden any Spanish athlete to meet a Soviet opponent, on the grounds that the Soviet Union was responsible, according to him, for the Spanish Civil War. This ban applied to La Roja who was to play a quarter-final in Moscow and therefore had to forfeit.


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