The beautiful game
JUN 23 -
Since the latter half of May, sales of televisions must have sky rocketed. Cricket, probably the most beloved game in the South Asian region, has, for the moment, lost its audience. And other, usually popular, global sport events too have taken a temporary back seat—all thanks to the arrival of the European Football Championship.
Featuring 16 of the best teams in Europe, the European Championship—organised by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)—is the second largest football tournament after the World Cup. It kicked off on June 8 this year, and a collective whoop could be heard among football fanatics around the world. The last two winners of the World Cup had been European countries (Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010), both of which are now competing in the Euro 2012. And although the
tournament certainly misses the action of South American giants like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, it does feature their best rivals—Spain, Germany, Italy, and England.
It goes without saying that the tournament has induced football frenzy in Europe, but lately, Nepal has joined in on the effusive enthusiasm. For the past two weeks or so, we’ve witnessed a veritable football fever here as well, where people are found gathering on streets, bars and restaurants to watch games, celebrate victories and drown their sorrows.
Amit Bajracharya, owner of Italcaffe in Manbhawan, says that owing to popular demand, the café has been screening Euro 2012 matches, despite never having
organised late night programmes on their premises before. “People want to watch the games alongside other people, and we’re happy to be able to provide that,” he says.
Besides giving café and restaurant businesses a little boost, it is interesting to observe how Euro 2012 appears to have brought the urban Nepali youth together at a time when ethnic tensions have engulfed the social and political arena. “I think events like these tend to do away with differences, because what matters at the end is whether you’re a football fan, nothing else,” says Bajracharya. “It’s a nice way to find common ground.”
Fans reiterate this sentiment. Manish Kunwar, who is a regular at Italcaffe, says the tournament has cemented the fact that ultimately, caste and ethnicity really should not be divisive elements in contemporary Nepal, particularly among young people. “My circle of friends is very diverse, and labels like Chhetri or Bahun don’t really come up in our interactions,” he says.
At Chopstix in Kumaripati, another establishment where the tournament is being presently screened, owner Srijan Shrestha says that Euro 2012 has given Kathmanduites something other than politics to obsess over, a far cry from what things were like not too long ago. “We have a lot of young groups as well as families coming in to watch, and they pretty much discuss the game throughout,” he says.
Similar thoughts are echoed by Sailendra Koirala, manager at Degaa Resto Lounge in Kumaripati and Deepak Niroula, second manager at the Blue Room Restro Lounge in Jhamsikhel, both of whom agree that the tournament has offered a
welcome distraction. “Nobody cares about things like caste and ethnicity when two European giants are locking horns,” Niroula says.
These testimonials correspond with UEFA’s RESPECT campaign, part of the Euro 2012 theme, a social responsibility programme that “aims to support local communities, tackle social issues and works towards unity across gender, race, religion and ability.” Of course, it is true enough that the benign effects of the Euro 2012 are largely limited to the urban demographic in Nepal; we cannot
take these cases to represent circumstances around the country. But given that an event like this has the capacity to influence—however small a fraction of the population—in a positive way, is an encouraging sign in itself. It suggests that perhaps divisions and labels, belaboured as they were in the past few months, are not set in stone, and that efforts to overcome ethnic tensions still have a chance to triumph.
Posted on: 2012-06-23 08:51