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Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

6th February 2019

More than a game

The UK Team at the opening of the EYOF

Sport has always played a big part in my personal life, as a young rugby player, a student field hockey player, and more than all as an armchair enthusiast. I am lucky that sport has also factored in my professional career, by managing to be in Japan for the 2002 World Cup, London for the 2012 Olympics, Brazil for both World Cup and Olympics. And now I am in another sporting city, Sarajevo, home to a memorable winter games 35 years ago, as it rediscovers its Olympic history through the European Youth Olympic Festival or EYOF.

One of the greatest British managers, Bill Shankly, once said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” Sport should never be the most important thing, and part of its blessing is that it remains fun and inclusive. That does not mean it cannot be important, and have a reach that goes far beyond the playing field. Major sporting moments can bring people together, and change the way a whole country is seen by the rest of the world. I think EYOF could do just that, especially as both Sarajevo and East Sarajevo share the spotlight – I love the motto ‘Two cities, one dream’.

An example that has long sat close to my heart is Nelson Mandela’s appearance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. South Africa, host of the tournament, was just returning to the international stage, under his careful leadership. Rugby was almost exclusively played by the white minority, and, somewhat against the odds, South Africa reached the final. When Nelson Mandela emerged in the stadium wearing the national shirt, so long a symbol of the oppressive apartheid regime, he was demonstrating that he would be a President for all, and that the whole country could unite behind him as well as the team. And because sometimes sport can give us the endings we don’t get in real life, Mandela presented the trophy to the winning South African captain, and a man that would become a firm friend, Francois Pienaar.

More recently, I had the opportunity to meet Nick Butter, a young British man in the midst of an amazing project, to run a marathon in each of the 196 countries of the world. He is doing this to raise money for cancer research, as well as provide inspiration to others. It was my great pleasure to join Nick for at least a few kilometres of his run in Sarajevo, and introduce him to another inspiring group of people with the ‘Trcanje I To’ running group.

I also think back to London in 2012. The Olympics itself was fantastic, grabbing the country’s attention and showing everyone what a good party we could throw. But it was the Paralympics that really opened people’s eyes, particularly about what heroes look like. There were countless brilliant stories, but you get some idea from this advert at the time ‘Meet the Super Humans’, 90 seconds of pure sport.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has many sporting ambassadors around the world, from Roma’s Edin Dzeko to judo’s Larisa Ceric. And as well as helping to put the country on the map, they of course have the ability to draw new generations into being active, from serious athletes to weekend walkers – all helping to promote the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle.

Which brings me back to EYOF. Even a non-local like me can feel a tingle of excitement at seeing the new mascot, Groodvy, alongside legendary Vucko. I am sure that everyone who comes to participate, or watches, will see once again that amazing hospitality and spirit of ’84. With no Torvill and Dean and their amazing Bolero, I cannot get my hopes up too much about British medals. But I am sure that the games will again bring people together, challenge our ideas of what is possible, and inspire us to greater things.