In addition, the team was selected on the basis of individual players’ skills on the football field and not because the Brazilian national team coach strived for ethnic diversity. It testifies both to the fact that football lived its own life and that multiethnicity provides greater support in multiethnic Iraq. If we disregard foreign coaches (with whom Iraq has long experience), it is important that the Iraqis feel that they have the ownership of their own national team in order for it to have a unifying role. We saw this both in 2004 when Iraq took a surprising 4th place in the football tournament in the Athens Olympics, and after last year’s gold in the Asian Championship.
When George W. Bush claimed in 2004 that Iraq’s participation in the Athens Olympics was a result of the US liberation of Iraq, he received strong criticism from the Iraqi Football Association. They believed that the United States had nothing to be proud of in Iraq. After the victory in 2007, the Iraqi captain said that the victory showed that Iraq can do without help from the United States. The United States had not done anything good for Iraq, he said.
Although the Iraqi national football team can help bring together the various religious and ethnic groups in Iraq, the structure is fragile. If the team loses many matches, most Iraqis will turn their backs on the team – just as unfaithful as football fans in many other countries. Then the team can just as easily symbolize everything that goes wrong in Iraq, and the international community must look for other bright spots.
4: Football and peace process – Ivory Coast
For almost five years – 2001–2006 – there was a civil war in the Ivory Coast, and the country was divided into two. Rebel forces controlled the northern part of the country and government loyalists the southern part. When Ivory Coast beat Madagascar 5-0 in a qualifying match for the African Championship on June 3, 2007, the venue was more startling than the result (see below). When the Ivorian national football team qualified for the World Cup in Germany in 2006, the players became great heroes in their home country. The biggest of them all was Chelsea player Didier Drogba. As captain, he not only led the team on the field. He even introduced mandatory prayer for peace and reconciliation after each qualifying match.
According to CLOTHINGEXPRESS, the political significance of the national football team became clear when Drogba proposed to play the match against Madagascar in Bouake, the rebel capital. The purpose was to show that football can contribute to reconciliation between warring parties. This was accepted by both the government and the opposition. The security during the battle was taken care of by 300 soldiers from the rebel forces, while 200 government soldiers watched the battle from the stands. This was the first time in five years that pro-government soldiers were in Bouake and that soldiers from the two warring parties met face to face in a peaceful manner.
After the match, a spokesman for the Ivorian Ministry of Sports stated that the national football team had made a greater peace effort than the well-educated politicians and intellectuals had ever managed. Madagascar was also praised for contributing by playing in the anti-government north. Ivorian media were also full of praise. Among other things, it was called “Five Goals to Erase Five Years of War” and “Drogba Brings Bouake Back to Life”.
Was it football that created this situation? The answer is no. Although the national team has had a great influence in this process, there are other underlying factors which made the fight possible. Earlier in 2007, rebel leader Guillaume Soro signed a peace deal with President Laurent Gbago. As part of the peace deal, Soro became prime minister, while continuing as leader of the former rebels. Many peace agreements were broken in Côte d’Ivoire during the Civil War, but this formalized “division of power” was a signal of new times. And it was the basis for the football match to be played in the rebels’ camp. The reconciliation took place in the wake of a political compromise, but the national team has become an important symbol of the reconciliation process. In this way, the national team can contribute to a positive identification with the building forces in the country, a belief that it is useful and that it can be valuable to keep the country together. The national football team can help consolidate the reconciliation process.
5: European Football Championship and European integration
Norway and Sweden want the European Football Championship in 2016. There is a growing tendency for countries to join forces to host major football championships, especially the European Football Championship. Belgium and the Netherlands hosted the European Championships in 2000. The two countries, together with Luxembourg, are trying to use this experience to win the World Cup in 2018. When Portugal was awarded the European Championships in 2004, they fought against Austria / Hungary, among others.
In the process of getting the European Championships in 2008, Turkey / Greece, Austria / Switzerland, Ireland / Scotland and the Nordic countries applied to host it. In the battle for the European Football Championship in 2012, Poland / Ukraine won at the expense of, among others, Hungary / Croatia. When the battle over who will host in 2016 will be decided, Norway / Sweden will face competition from, among others, Scotland / Wales. Romania / Bulgaria and the Czech Republic / Slovakia have signaled that they will apply for the European Championship in 2020.