Anger, alcohol hijack beautiful game

Polish and Russian football fans clash in Warsaw on June 12, 2012, ahead of the Euro 2012...

Polish and Russian football fans clash in Warsaw on June 12, 2012, ahead of the Euro 2012 championships football match Poland vs Russia. Police used water cannon and tear gas on unruly Euro 2012 fans in Warsaw as Poland geared up to play old foe Russia in a must-win Euro 2012 match. (AFP/Wojtek Radwanski)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:09 PM ET

WARSAW - Ten days at Euro 2012 and there's a pervasive, gnawing feeling of emptiness and sadness.

Someone, somehow has hijacked the marvellous sport of soccer and turned it into something ugly, coarse and unworthy of its exalted status as the beautiful game.

For lovers of the game, soccer was a sport that had everything an individual needed. It had magnificent athletes who make a soccer ball do magical things. It had the capacity to enthrall the world for weeks at a time with tournaments such as Euro and the World Cup. It could capture the attention of people on the periphery of the sport who were mesmerized by the tradition, the emotion and the passion of the fans.

Not many sports provide an image of 100,000 Dutch fans marching along the street all wearing Oranje shirts, or 30,000 Spanish fans dressed in rojas.

It is a special camaraderie that allows Irish and Croatian fans to dance together before a game.

There is something haunting about fans chanting and singing their traditional songs. Listening to the Irish sing "The Fields of Athenry" melts the heart and sends a shiver down the spine whether you are Irish or not, whether you understand the story or not. It's the sound of the lilting voices that evoke love of country ... your country, their country any country.

The game itself is so much to so many. The game knows not whether one is wealthy or poor, whether one is white or black, whether one is big or small, Pole or Russian, young or old, whether it is being played in a majestic stadium in front of 100,000 fans or on a dirt field by a group of youngsters in Africa.

It is a game, the game. Everything else is window dressing.

It is the way it should be.

But it is all dying. It is dying a very public and very painful death.

Now what captures the attention of a long-time fan and those with passing interest in the sport is the savagery of fans to each other and the remorseless practise of racism that makes the sport cower under its onslaught.

Fans have replaced dancing in happiness with fists, kicks, rocks and bottles.

People don't march in groups to share their joy at the game but they march in groups to dispense fear in the streets.

The chanting now is not about traditional songs and celebration of culture. It is often about monkey chants at black players and homophobic insults at other players.

This isn't the sport many of us love. It's a verbal lynching.

An international game was at one time dramatic theatre. Now it has become a theatre of ignorance and anger at imagined slights from years ago that are played out for the world to see by hoodlums, who otherwise would be insignificant and sitting in a jail cell somewhere.

Soccer has changed. A much younger crowd, mostly men, attends games now. Alcohol is not something used to enhance the soccer experience. It has become, for many, the experience.

Alcohol is the major source of problems. Thousands of people pass out before and during the game. Thousands of others lose their sense of propriety and respect.

One can hope that major governing bodies of the sport and soccer associations recognize what the culture has become and make a concerted effort to initiate meaningful changes. It may cost them money and grief in the short term but it may save their sport in the long run.

Many parents grew up in a true soccer culture, dreaming of taking a son or daughter to an important international match to give them the opportunity to appreciate the passion, tradition and love that is soccer.

But what happens at a game now is too damaging. I wouldn't take my daughter.

The game has become an avenue to destroy rather than to build.


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