I was watching European football (soccer) on ESPN3 this past Saturday morning and happened to see a rather heart-warming site in the Bayern Munich v. TSG Hoffenheim match. It wasn’t a particularly good match as Bayern won rather easily but at one point there was a goal that reminded me about much of what is good in sport and how it brings people together.
Bayern plays their home games in the town of Munich, Germany in the Bundesliga which is Germany’s top football league. Just to explain how it works to those not familiar with the league systems of football I’ll give a quick overview. Each country has several divisions and the top division is the most important. At the end of each season the teams that finish near the top of their division get to play extra games in special tournaments and this generates a huge amount of revenue. If they are playing in a non-top division they also are promoted up one division for the next season. In contrast, teams that finish near the bottom of the division are relegated or sent down to play the next year in the lower league.
The system is somewhat flawed but what I really want to talk about is what I saw during the Bayern Hoffenheim match. Bayern is one of, if not the, most traditional powerhouse in German soccer with a history that dates back over a century. The play in question involved a player named Arjen Robben making a beautiful pass to Franck Ribery who then scored much to the delight of the near 70,000 fans in attendance.
Why do I make such a big deal about this? Arjen Robben is a Dutch player while Franck Ribery is French. The fans are mostly German.
How can this not be a sign of the progress of humanity?
We think of nationalism and patriotism as good things and I wouldn’t disagree although perhaps the definition of both words is something I should go into detail in another blog but, sadly, those two ideas can be, and have been, used in ugly ways in the past. Love of your own country can be manipulated into hate of another group of people and this can lead to violence and ugliness. When we see sport bringing traditional enemies together it might not be saving the world but it is certainly makes it a less hate filled place. It’s hard to be a racist when your favorite player is of a different race. Not that it’s impossible but again, that’s another topic.
One imagines a world where we fight our wars on the playing field and go to the pub for a beer afterwards with the winners smiling and the losers dreaming of next year while buying each other pints.
So, for those of you who aren’t sports fans why not give your local club a chance this year by going to a few games. Even if you’re not lucky enough to live in Munich, St. Louis, or Hoffenheim you can witness camaraderie that crosses economic and possibly national lines and maybe make a new friend or two as well.
By the way, aside from the Ribery goal Bayern got a hat trick from Mario Gomez. He was born in Riedlingen and has some pretty progressive views about homosexuals in sports.
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