Sporting extravaganzas amid political turmoil

Moa Jamir

For sports aficionados in general and football fans in particular, the summer of 2024 is set to be an exhilarating period with two major overlapping intercontinental spectacles. The 2024 UEFA European Football Championship, or EURO 2024, hosted by Germany, has already kicked off with a grand opening on June 14 and will conclude on July 14 (July 15 IST). This 17th edition features 24 major European football-playing nations vying for the championship title, with Italy as the defending champion.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the 48th edition of the Copa América, the world's oldest international football tournament, is poised to kick off on June 20 (June 21 IST) in the United States and will also conclude on July 14 (July 15 IST).  A total of 16 teams are participating in COPA 2024.

For tennis enthusiasts, the oldest and arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament, Wimbledon, is scheduled from July 1-14. The ninth edition of the International Cricket Council Men's T20 World Cup, co-hosted by the West Indies and the United States is also currently underway and wrap up on June 29.

Adding to the summer sports bonanza, Paris is gearing up for the 2024 Summer Olympics, officially the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad, which kicks off on July 26 and runs until August 11. Under the motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius – Communiter” (Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together), the Olympics will feature 10,500 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), according to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) website.

Despite these grand spectacles, the events are set against a backdrop of turbulent political affairs.  When the UEFA EURO 2024 tournament's slogan, 'United by Football. Vereint im Herzen Europas' (United in the heart of Europe), was unveiled in Berlin in January 2022, tournament director Philipp Lahm envisioned the event as not just a football tournament but a “festival for everyone and one which brings people together.” UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin echoed this sentiment, stating, "Football is about friendship, it's about good values, different cultures uniting.”

However, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 has shown how quickly geopolitics can overshadow lofty mottos. Russian teams were banned by UEFA from international competitions within days, and they are not part of the current event. Meanwhile, Ukraine is participating in its first major tournament since the invasion.

Following the IOC suspensions of the National Olympic Committees of Russia and Belarus for violating the Olympic Truce after the invasion of Ukraine, athletes from these two countries will compete in Paris  as "Individual Neutral Athletes" (AIN) without national identification under certain conditions.

Adding to the tension, the Paris 2024 Olympics are set against the backdrop of President Emmanuel Macron’s gamble to announce snap polls for the members of the 17th National Assembly after a setback in the recent European Parliament elections. These elections are expected to be held in two rounds on June 30 and July 7. Similarly, the United Kingdom is poised for a general election on July 4 following a surprise announcement by the Prime Minister.

Across Europe, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the rise of right-wing parties continue to create a volatile environment. In the Americas, the Copa América unfolds amid the heated campaign for the US Presidential election in November, with immigration, usually from the South,  being a major electoral issue.

The big question remains: Will the lofty mottos and the spectacle of these events overcome such adversities? 

Nonetheless, for fans everywhere, as the football extravaganzas unfold in Europe and the Americas, many will be watching to see if Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi can cement their legacies with success in either cup.  Elsewhere, the individual greatness and tenacity of athletes, as well as team spirit, will be on full display in Paris. Such achievements tend to outlast momentary geopolitical shifts and ranscends political turmoil.

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