If the word “diversity” was looking for a good synonym, and it didn’t fancy “variety” or “difference,” it could use “Team Europe.” Can you use the word in sentence? Sure. “Team Europe is the basis of functioning democracy” … or something like that.
Many still refer to Team Europe as to the gimmick team, which was artificially made up so that the 2016 World Cup of Hockey could have eight teams in the competition. Truly, Team Europe is the most diverse squad at the whole tournament, not only within the players’ locker room, but also in its coaching staff, management and in all of its other possible forms and connotations. Yet, this diverse squad made it to the semifinals of the tournament – a tournament that claims to have gathered the crème-de-la-crème of world’s ice hockey. Nobody knows what’s actually making Team Europe stick together, and all the journalists keep on asking the players this same question over and over again.
First, everybody can see that these 23 guys visually lack a common reference, a common uniting symbol. While many Canadian players stressed before the tournament that the strength of their team is within the common goal to fight for the red maple leaf on the sweaters, European players have on their sweaters a symbol nobody really understands. So when the players of Team Europe are asked who they actually fight for, they reply that for the small national flag on their arms, and for their foreign teammate standing on their side.
Okay, Team North America, the other interesting experiment of the World Cup, also had that strange orange triangle on their chests instead of their national symbols. However, this was at least compensated by having both Canadian and American national anthems played before the match. If you wanted to play something for Team Europe, you would have tough time choosing the right tune. No, that majestic Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” tune is not the anthem of Europe, but of the European Union – a political body of which neither Norway nor Switzerland are part of, while Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic are – but Swedes, Finns and Czechs also had their own teams and their own anthems at the tournament. If the organizers wanted to use the Team North America approach and play all the national anthems, they might need a fourth period. And no, “Final Countdown” from the rock band Europe, with all due respect, wasn’t considered a good idea. So the result: no anthem.
Alright, the players compiled from eight different nations do have one uniting musical trademark – every time they score a goal the DJ blasts “Seven Nation Army” for celebrations… yep, not even the White Stripes thought that something like “Eight Nation Army” was a good idea.
Rather problematic is also Team Europe’s fan support. Even though most of Team Europe’s jerseys and t-shirts have been sold out in the official fan shops, there weren’t that many on stock to begin with. Most of the fans would then end up wearing either national hockey jerseys, or jerseys of the NHL teams that the Europeans play for. However, not only can you not clearly see the Team Europe fans at the stadium, neither can you hear them. There are no official chants that would unite Europe’s fan base. I did notice a few attempts of the mobilized Slovak fans to cheer for Slovakia, but those ended before they even started. Very bizarre, and indeed rare, are the attempts to cheer “Europe, Europe!” So the result: no cheering.
Nevertheless, despite all these odds, Team Europe made a significant appearance at the 2016 World Cup, which has resulted in advancing to today’s semi-finals against Sweden. I believe that a strong role in this success was played by its head coach, Ralph Krueger – a Canadian-born German, who coached in the NHL, coached the Swiss national team, and, moreover, is at the moment the chair of an English Premier League soccer club. His press conferences are usually both well attended and well received. He seems to be exactly that calm and kind, yet intelligent person, who could be a perfect president of a country full of diverse tensions, identities and interests. Since at the moment the European Union is facing a challenge of finding a uniting vision, I think somebody should have invited Ralph Krueger to Brussels. He might sort it out. If not completely, at least for the moment.
When he spoke about the unique experience of coaching Team Europe, Krueger said: “There has never been a team in a tournament like this – with no past and no future. But I think in life and in sports, anyways, the ability to be in the now is what makes you strong, and that’s all we have.”
So how is the story of Team Europe – the bunch of strangers that media rather overlooked, game experts wrote off and nobody really cheered for – going to end? I don’t think it is the end that really matters. It is the story itself. A story, most of which has already been written… a story that most likely won’t have a second edition.