By Christiane Amanpour, CNN
I remember Bosnia, especially Sarajevo during the war – people loved soccer. Whenever there was a lull in the shelling or the sniping, they would play.
But over the course of nearly four years of war, some of the city’s soccer fields became graveyards, and I stood there as formal cemeteries overflowed with the war dead. Stadiums were shelled and it was all but impossible even to leave for formal matches abroad.
Sarajevo once had the world’s sporting spotlight shining down on it – as host of the 1984 Winter Olympics. The ice skating rink that gave the world gold medallists, Torvill and Dean, was destroyed during the war and it seemed to symbolize all the hope that was seeping out of Sarajevo – and all of Bosnia Herzegovina.
So as Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifies for the first time for the World Cup, there’s certainly a bittersweet feeling to it, it brings a huge smile to my face because it’s wonderful to see Bosnia, to see the city of Sarajevo erupt in such well-deserved celebration.
This will unite people.
The war tore apart a multi-ethnic population: suddenly Bosnians, Serbs and Croats who had intermingled, inter-married, worked and played together, were at each other’s’ throats. The soccer teams were torn apart, and so were their fans. .
This new generation of Bosnians are mostly too young to have remembered the war. They were only kids when this happened, almost 20 years ago.
And so much has changed. Today it’s not only Bosnia and Herzegovina flexing its national pride through sport – look at Serbia, to me Tennis Champ Novak Djokovic represents democratic post-war Serbia. So much has changed.
For me, sport is something that shows how people can actually get along, unencumbered by ethnicity and race or religion based rivalries.
Since the war ended in 1996, Bosnians have been rebuilding, though they’re not out of the woods yet. They’re still very fragile, on both political and economic lines.
But this moment of sports triumph will be very important for Bosnians, and remind people what they can do together rather than split apart.