Sport And Nation Building

By Emma Newbery July 9, 2014

IMG_1033 (2)Like many, I have been swept away with football fever in this World Cup. Partly because of Colombia’s performance, partly because the enthusiasm and passion of those around me has been contagious…


I never cease to be amazed by the depth of feeling that football induces – ultimately the way that two teams and a ball can bring a country to a standstill and hold the world in thrall. And even after Colombia’s disappointing exit, there is hardly a page in this edition that does not mention the beautiful game – whether it’s directly about the football, ley seca, or even the unfortunate acts of violence that always lurks in football’s shadow.

And with reports of deaths and injuries after every match, that violence should not be forgotten or trivialised. Neither should the at times aggressive outpourings of nationalism (as opposed to national pride which we have also seen in spades) that streamed through Facebook and Twitter.

“Colombia’s sporting heroes are changing the narrative, most recently in the World Cup, the Giro d’Italia, and in IndyCar racing…”

At the same time, it could be argued that such violence is a consequence of the high passions that accompany football in almost every country. And I sincerely hope that the bigger story of sporting heroes in a new Colombia is the one that will be seen around the world.

For me – and I would guess that for many expats here – that is not a new story. As I sat with Colombian friends, all holding our breath and desperately hoping for an equaliser against Brazil, mulling on the power of sport, I reflected on a different (and lesser known) defeat – almost exactly a year ago – where my Colombian colleagues accepted what most insiders knew was a travesty of a decision against dignity, humility and even humour.

Medellín had been competing against Buenos Aires and Glasgow for the right to host the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. I still believe that we had the best proposal – and the best ‘story’ – with world-class sporting infrastructure and an incomparable story of transformation through sport.

But we lost. And, just as with the football, we could say, “we were robbed,” or we could celebrate our heroes and the slow but steady inroads that all ‘international Colombians’ are making as they change global perceptions of their country.

Colombia’s sporting heroes are changing the narrative – most recently in the World Cup, the Giro d’Italia, and in IndyCar racing – but let’s not forget about the Olympics, the rugby and the tennis. Not to mention those who work in sports administration, those behind-the-scenes heroes who have been working for the past 20 years towards the successes we see today.

And, for me at least, the true spirit of Colombia is clear in the tens of thousands of fans who gathered in Parque Simon Bolivar and through the streets of Bogota on Sunday to cheer the football team home. And of course, in our new Golden Boy: James.

Emma Newbery is one of the founders of The Bogota Post after over two years in Colombia. She has spent 10 years working as a consultant to cities who are bidding to host the Olympic Games.