It is always interesting how such events provide distraction from domestic problems, if only for a few weeks, as citizens are given a lift in what might otherwise be particularly troubling times. So is the case currently with a number of those participating in the competition.
For many, the event could not have come at a better time. Citizens find themselves (albeit short-lived and superficial) distracted from the problems of unemployment, a struggling economy and inflated daily costs, while governments are enjoying a brief respite from the mounting frustration and anger of the people, incited by the economic woes that have plagued these nations in recent months and years.
Take Greece for example. The average citizen of Greece has had little to be excited about in recent times. Multiple bailouts by other European countries appears to be doing little to mend the country’s problems and avoid what is increasingly looking like departure from the Eurozone. Virtually all of those fortunate enough to have jobs have experienced a reduction in wages.
Meanwhile, reports last week suggested that Greece’s unemployment has hit a record high of 21.9 percent, what many are saying is a side effect of the austerity measures imposed as part of the bailout plan. Greece’s soccer team will need to pull something special out of the hat against Russia on Saturday if they are to have any hope of prolonging their people’s distraction from their discontent.
Hoping for a better outcome in the tournament is Spain. Winners in 2008 and World Cup champions in 2010, it will likely provide a longer period of distraction for its citizens, and it could not have come too soon. This week, Spain’s government further stirred speculation over the future of the European currency by accepting its own bailout of up to 100 billion euros ($128 billion), becoming the fourth European country to do so after Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
There was initial optimism in the markets following the deal, under which Spain will not have strict requirements of reform, but these early signs of positivity are quickly fading. Few doubt that the transaction has merely stopped the bleeding for a brief period, and discussion of centralized fiscal regulation in the EU set for 2013 is doing little to inject confidence.
It is interesting that the Spanish government chose this week for the bailout; perhaps coincidence, or perhaps knowing the distraction of the athletic spectacle might allow their actions to go unnoticed by many. However, the world champions are only supported by some 5,000 traveling fans in Poland, compared with around 30,000 traveling Irish fans (who, let’s face it, have much worse prospects). Perhaps the Spanish, of which one in four is out of work, are feeling the pinch more than one might first have thought.
While soccer fans are avidly awaiting the outcome of the “Group of Death” involving Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark, some have remarked at the so-called “Group of Debt,” including Spain, Ireland, and Italy, the last of which may have avoided peril in ways that its counterparts could not.
While millions are watching and eagerly hoping their countries might achieve glory at Euro 2012, their respective governments will similarly be wishing for a lengthy period of distraction and a boost in national morale at the tail end of the competition. However, the disappointment of losing, which will be guaranteed for all but one of the participating nations, could extend the misery of millions of Europeans as they return to their normal lives, and as Europe moves ever closer to disaster.