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Home >Opinion >Views >Spectacular self-goals in this game of eyeballs

The game that sells on beauty, with football positioned in global mindspace as ‘the beautiful game’, has seen three self-goals scored in Euro 2020 so far. Or is it four? On Tuesday, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo roused fans across the globe to raptures by playing Hungary on its home turf, a day after he casually seemed to knock $4 billion off a championship sponsor’s market value by pushing aside a fizzy drink for water at a press-meet in Budapest. Whether it was causation or correlation (an action replay offers no clarity), an open snub of its top brand live on millions of screens appeared to have tripped The Coca-Cola Company’s share price, leaving it red-faced enough to issue a statement saying everyone was entitled to their preferences. As audiences fragment, sports extravaganzas offer a special chance to attract eyeballs for ad messages, but the antics of players that make them such big stars can and also backfire on sponsors. Ronaldo scored twice in that match, took his team to victory and leapt past France’s Michel Platini as this tournament’s all-time top goal scorer. Yet, it was his Coke clip that went viral, as one may expect of a celebrity with nearly half a billion followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter combined.

If it was any consolation for Coca-Cola, Tuesday’s action on the field produced a roaring stadium of spectators seen in ripples of red, its brand colour, which was worn by Hungarian as well as Portuguese supporters, a sight that would have left a subliminal imprint on many viewers across the world. The spectacle of it, however, was startling for another reason too: the conviviality of the revival on display. The UEFA European Football Championship, as it is officially called, was originally scheduled to be played last year, before covid got in its way. It was duly pushed forth. But this was a business involving competition among a string of fixtures on a sports calendar, last year’s ripping up of which spelt a novel rivalry to converge eyeballs at the earliest to mop up ad budgets lying in wait for a re-kick-off. Euro 2020’s organizers have been quick at the draw. They also did well to retain its title, which has a look and sound to it that simply can’t be matched. But if the year 2020 is one that history won’t forget, it is for the outbreak of a pandemic that in hindsight may look more and more like a tragedy of our own making. The most striking part of Euro 2020 has been the crowds it has huddled together, and that too, with little to restrain the roars generated by the frenzy of such mass gatherings. Noisy people help the airborne virus spread even faster. Is our beautiful game, then, on the verge of scoring a far more morbid sort of self-goal?

Europe may have bent its infection curve, with its daily count down from a recent peak of over 288,000 on 1 April to just over 42,000 cases on 16 June, but it has not seen covid off yet. Another worry for the rest of us should be the demonstration effect of such a raucous return to normalcy (as we knew it). Euro 2020 has viewers in various covid-stricken regions, many of them restless and raring to let themselves go. Carefree signals could catch on in countries that lag the West on vaccination and need to stay alert, apart and masked, not to mention quiet, till an acceptable level of safety is achieved. In India, especially, we must do our utmost to resist self-goals. It would help if stadiums are kept empty everywhere until the pandemic is given a final red-card send-off.

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