One interesting fact that was barely mentioned in this FIFA World Cup is the conjoining of all soccer fans from all over the world that appeared in the stadium’s stands. We’ve never really witnessed any incidents of violence in World Cup games but in a stormy country like Brazil where half the nation was at the knife’s edge of a civil war in opposition of hosting the tournament, the grounds were suitable for an outburst. However, nothing happened.
Growing up in Greece, I was one of the millions of children whose only dream was to make it to the FIFA World Cup and eventually score a bicycle kick in the 93rd minute of the game clinching the win and lifting the trophy. Very similar to what Mario Gotze did in the Germany-Argentina final.
In 2004 while we were living those glorious moments of hammering through the European Cup playoffs against France, Czech Rep and Portugal, my local football team was battling through another soccer tournament in Grevena, roughly 100 miles southwest of Thessalonica. Conquering the football world did not seem as hard in our teens and with the help of our national team who had finally proved itself worthy, the above dream all of sudden felt easier to reach.
However it was not all roses for one of my fellow teammates, our center back Dori. This sweetheart of a child who was born in Albania but grew up in Greece was the only one that followed me in the streets of Grevena parading and chanting after Greece beat France in the quarterfinals. Although he genuinely enjoyed the athlos of the Greeks, he couldn’t help but feel bitter when another teammate asked him why an Albanian was celebrating the Greek triumph. His exact words were “I wouldn’t be celebrating if Albania made it through the next round, why are YOU celebrating?”
I caught Dorian with his hands cupping his face later at practice in result of what was previously stated. How can one dream of a future when everyone is trying to dismiss your foundations? Dori was so confused he eventually singled himself out; a common case with many other Albanians I grew up with.
Racism is a synonym to ignorance. A child is unaware of the harm he’s producing when condemning another person’s race or nationality. And as long as he gets a laughing reaction from the crowd, he will just keep on doing it till he becomes an adult who really believes in his actions. In Greece, but in other countries too especially ones with significant history behind them, anybody different that could potentially demolish the nation’s footprint is regarded as a threat.
Other vivid memories of mine watching national teams play are not as amusing as they should be. When Greece finally won the Euro and millions of us stormed to the streets, a number of Albanians did the same too and were brutally beaten up. Same thing happened a few months later when Albania defeated the newly crowned European champions for a world cup qualifying game and the Albanians in Greece “dared” to celebrate in the center of Athens.
You can name thousands of reasons not to love America. People who have never even stepped in this country can name a dozen more. But in all my years here, watching soccer on TV in bars or restaurants, I have never felt threatened to show that I’m supporting Greece. We’re a cosmopolitan country and fans respect that. Germans, Argentinians, Americans, Brazilians, Mexicans, Greeks all feel safe to wear their countries’ colors and cheer of their wins.
I love Greece and there’s a unique feeling to knowing that when the Greek national team plays all streets are empty and concentrated on that one single game. But in the long run, I’d rather be part of a country where all races can come together and feel safe amongst others. We’re not there yet back home.