Could soccer unite Spain?

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images Last week, I noted that the apparent dilemma facing German citizens of Turkish origin for the match between Germany and Turkey in the European championship was not much of a dilemma at all — most were supporting their roots, Turkey, over their current home. But some in Europe still see soccer as ...

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594366_080630_spain5.jpg

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, I noted that the apparent dilemma facing German citizens of Turkish origin for the match between Germany and Turkey in the European championship was not much of a dilemma at all -- most were supporting their roots, Turkey, over their current home.

But some in Europe still see soccer as a source of unity. In an article on the eve of Sunday's final match between Germany and Spain, Spanish PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wrote: "We have all identified with the red shirt... with the ball at their feet, we've seen an understanding between Andalucians, Basques, Catalans and Valencians." Since the end of the Franco regime, ethnic and regional identities have dominated Spanish politics, and few Spaniards consider themselves solely Spanish.

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, I noted that the apparent dilemma facing German citizens of Turkish origin for the match between Germany and Turkey in the European championship was not much of a dilemma at all — most were supporting their roots, Turkey, over their current home.

But some in Europe still see soccer as a source of unity. In an article on the eve of Sunday’s final match between Germany and Spain, Spanish PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wrote: “We have all identified with the red shirt… with the ball at their feet, we’ve seen an understanding between Andalucians, Basques, Catalans and Valencians.” Since the end of the Franco regime, ethnic and regional identities have dominated Spanish politics, and few Spaniards consider themselves solely Spanish.

Spain won the championship, 1-0, and though the country erupted in celebration, the BBC sounded a cautionary tone on any hopes for national unity:

But one trophy does not a unified nation make, and Mr Zapatero was perhaps overstating the point. Basque and Catalan nationalists are not suddenly going to abandon their political principles on the strength of a goal by Fernando Torres.

Perhaps. But while not much has changed since Iraq’s victory in the Asian Cup last year either, national pride is still a small step on the road to reconciliation. It’s a start.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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