As many of you know, the World Cup is currently taking place and Bosnia had their first game just last night (at midnight here)! A large group of us ended up watching the game on two huge screens suspended over a plaza square in the middle of the city of Sarajevo. What an experience. The photo I chose to show is pictured below and to give it a little preface, this was taken right after the Bosnian team had scored – the crowd went crazy and started setting off flares and other fireworks to celebrate creating an atmosphere that is unlike any I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event in the States. It was lit in vivid red light and drenched in smoke from the flares (and cigarettes) creating an eery yet beautiful glow. I went to take a photo of the scene and just as I pressed the shutter, the guy in front of me raised his hand – which ended up making the shot in a way I couldn’t anticipate.
Although I have grown up playing organized sports, I have also become increasingly frustrated with the role that professional sports play in the culture and economy of the United States in particular. Despite this, I have been challenging myself recently and realizing that my view is a somewhat distorted one. Because I have had the opportunity to experience the positive effects of organized sports – including a sense of connection, trusting others, collaboration, and experiencing shared success – without the threat of this not ever being an option, I have allowed myself to become critical of these institutions without also recognizing and holding the merits they hold. Societies need entertainment, outlets, and maybe most importantly, ways in which to connect with others in a manner that promotes shared meaning. So, I have started to shift my view of these institutions… Experiencing the World Cup in Bosnia helped to affirm some of these budding ideas for me.
Bosnia playing in the World Cup is a really big deal (football in general is a REALLY big deal in Europe which I always knew but had yet to feel in person) but I feel as though this particular country making it there is an opportunity for such transformation.
Outside of the opportunity for success that it presents in a country that is widely known for war and detriment rather than the resiliency and growth that is also present, the Bosnian team is also composed of a diverse set of individuals for the country. Members of the team represent varying ethnic groups in the country all working in collaboration towards something that benefits all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly Serbian and Muslim individuals alike. In a place still divided among strong ethnic lines, at least in many of the villages of the country, I have to wonder how impactful it could be for the country to experience success together – as a whole.
At the same time, it’s complex – as much of life is here in Bosnia. The war is inescapable and constantly tied to the reputation of the country even as an attempt to move on and leave it in the past is attempted. Even in interviews with several of the players, particularly the BiH goalkeeper (who lived in Sarajevo during the siege), the war is brought up and an effort to minimize this is shown. There seems to be such a strong desire to be known for something that is not the Olympics and not the war – I am curious about how moving forward in such a public way, such as success in the World Cup, could be positive for the country. As it has been echoed in several of the conversations we have had with locals over the past few days, this is big. And important. I undoubtedly got the feel of this while watching the Bosnian game with locals, even if a loss was the outcome.
I cannot escape the symbolic raising of a hands in unity and the power this visually holds. In what ways can we imagine and support moving forward?