Have you ever been bemused by the incongruity of the European Champions League draw or, for that matter, any of the draws for contemporary European football? Kazakhstan is there and so is Azerbaijan and Armenia. Many of the republics of the former Soviet Union are included. Georgia is there as are the Baltic Republics. Israel gets itself an invite as does Turkey. By any stretch of the geographical imagination, this is truly an expanded Europe. In fact, a more accurate name for these sporting fixtures might be the Eurasia Cup. Don’t misunderstand me, I am more than happy to see this expanded ‘Europe’ battling it out on the playing fields, but I do marvel at how audacious Uefa has become in unilaterally redefining the European continent.

 

If this new sporting definition is wondrous enough, the ready acceptance of it by the increasingly insular and xenophobic European populous is even more startling. Imagine what outcry there would be if Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan suddenly requested immediate entry into the European Union. Turkey has been trying for years with little prospect of a breakthrough. With the global recession threatening to make a dramatic comeback any day now, the chances of a favourable hearing are even more remote.

I for one favour any and every form of regional integration, providing the founding premise is one social progress and harmony, no matter how vague the constitutional platitudes may be. In this respect I give my begrudging blessings to the European Union. It may not represent a socialist paradise, far from it, but it sure as hell is better than endless European war. If an expanded Europe helps otherwise fractious nations to coexist within a broad parameter of some basic economic and social rights, then that has my vote. Perhaps naively, I regard every act of regional unity as a faltering step towards global governance, though I have every expectation of having my best hopes thwarted, in the short and medium term, by grim events on the ground. Europe’s tardy response to the fate of ten million Roma hardly fills one with glowing optimism for a European socialist future.

Notwithstanding these reservations, I felt just a little heartened by the sight of golfing enthusiasts waving the European flag during the recent Ryder Cup shenanigans in Wales last week. Here was a case perhaps of sport foreshadowing life itself. You don’t meet too many people in Europe, especially in the British Isles, actively and warmly embracing the European concept, but here was an unexpected exception. In the pursuit of giving those wealthy, arrogant American golfers a good bloody nose, Europe momentarily became a real political entity. Europe doesn’t yet have a united foreign policy, nor does it have much of a common economic or social strategy. It doesn’t even have a common language, but at least it does have a united and it seems, successful golfing team and that, bizarrely, may well presage other acts of cooperation and unity. It may.

Not everyone agrees with my reading of the situation. Roger Boyes, writing in The Times, does not get whipped up with all this European togetherness. He writes,

‘The last time anyone shouted "Europe, Europe" in public, the Iron curtain was falling. Now it seems to be enough to draw your four iron out of the bag for fans to wave the European ensign. The Ryder Cup seems a strange place to get emotional about the continent but the people who have been cheering Europe in Wales are not, of course, striving for a more deeply integrated EU…. They just want to see America lose.’

Boye’s is probably right in the immediate sense of things, but superficial events can sometimes have a deeper, more profound effect than those intended. I still adhere to that old fashioned nineteenth century theory that economics is at the heart of most, nay all human phenomena, and that culture merely reflects economic reality, but I also realise that culture can, in a dialectical sense, assume a life of its own and thereby have some influence, perhaps marginal, on economic life itself.

Fiercely competitive global capitalism is driving regional integration and global sport, the new opiate of the masses, is now so ubiquitous, so omnipresent, that it is powerful enough to influence the subjective element in the economic equation. If European capitalism hopes to withstand the economic challenge from Asia and the Americas it has no choice but to unite its resources, East and West, North and South and everywhere in-between. If Europe doesn’t embrace its Eurasian neighbours, then China most definitely will. In some simplistic way, Europe’s success in the Ryder Cup is making that very point. Even Germany, powerful as it is, will be insufficiently strong enough to compete with the emerging trading blocs around China, India and the America’s. Regional unity is an economic necessity for all capitalist nations whether we are talking of competing in the global markets or the global sporting arenas. The era of all-powerful nation states is rapidly coming to an end. The immediate future is regional unity or national irrelevance. Golf, it seems, has got the message already.

I’ll give the last word on the Ryder Cup to Dan Jones from The London Evening Standard who optimistically had this to say;

‘History is pockmarked with examples of sport reaching the spots that politics could not. Think of the jolly old British Tommy having a kickabout with the spiky-helmeted Hun in no-man’s land at Christmas in 1915. Recall Jessie Owens infuriating Adolf Hitler by giving the lie to Aryan supremacy during the 1936 Olympics. Remember Nelson Mandela donning a Springbok jersey to give the 1995 Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar. You can add as a small but intriguing footnote to those great examples of supra-political sporting symbolism the remarkable assembly every other year of a golf team under the unfashionable flag of the European Union.’

And then concludes’

‘Was Europe ever so joyfully united? Not that I can remember. The Ryder Cup has given Britain a love for Europe that no fruit measuring suit in Brussels ever could.’

End JPK 13/10/10 Copyright

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