Last Saturday evening I allocated time to watch a football much that caught my attention after images broadcasted by media showed football hooligans from Russia and England turned streets of Marseille in France into war zones. Those of us old enough will never forget similar incidents 20 years ago when Germany defeated England in semi finals of the same tournament. Those scenes in Marseille whet my appetite to watch the match pitting two political and sports rivals that dates back for close to a century. The much fancied English could only manage a draw after Russians equalised in extra time for what felt like a defeat for the ‘God Save the Queen’ boyos. In my view, the substitution of Wayne Rooney cost the team what could have been an important win but thats not what this article is about.My focus is how Euro 2016 tournament will see football contribute to international reputation and relations of European countries that otherwise is impossible on political front.Imagine Russian President having a chess game with British Premier?My view is that European countries relationship is more important than most people think.Ask many Europeans what they know about United Kingdom and the replies are likely to highlight sports mega-brands Manchester United, Liverpool or Nottingham Forest for those old enough. Or they might pivot their response to the authoritarian renegade of Belarus.
I did my research last week which included analysis of four weeks of pre-Euro 2016 online news coverage and interviews between players and teams participating in the tournament with sports journalists.I analysed more than 5,000 online news stories. I first searched for stories that included a set of key terms relating to Euro Cup, then parsed the news articles through semantic analysis programs to reveal which terms were dominant and or significant. My top-line findings are perhaps unsurprising. Coverage of Euro Cup was greater, and different, in English than in other European languages like German, Danish. Finnish, Russian, Italian, French and Spanish. This implies that it is not sufficient to rely upon English-language media sources when considering Euro Cup’s image. Frosty relations between England and Russia featured highly. This reflects the importance of the economic relationship and the match between England and Russian that ended in a draw in Marseille. Media coverage of strategic and security matters, including Russian belligerence in Ukraine, is less prominent. However, Russia appears less important in English media.More surprising was the extent to which 2016 Euro Cup was prominent. In the German-language news, the Euro Cup’s dominance was especially pronounced. The highest-ranking terms, whether measured by frequency, degree centrality which is the number of connections or betweenness centrality which is the importance of connections, were mostly those relating to the tournament.
German footballers Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all in the 15 most frequently occurring name-like words in the corpus. Of note is David Cameron’s absence from the list and the ranking of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is position 22. The findings show how European countries struggles to rise above the fray in fellow European countries news, instead being consigned to one of a number of countries that form an international community. Football, specifically the 2016 Euro Cup competition featuring 24 European teams, seems to be the one clear exception. My research demonstrates there are good reasons to be positive about the impact of France hosting the Euro Cup especially after the last few months incidents that shattered the country psyche. The level of 2016 Europ Cup coverage has already exceeded expectations and is overshadowing other major topics like UK vote to leave or stay in European Union. Football, especially major events and competitions like ongoing Euro Cup 2016 in which most European countries are competing, provides an opportunity to create a shared story beyond the political sideshows we are always fed by media.