Euro 2020 Teaches Graciousness in Victory and Perspective in Defeat

Athletes Live Like They Play at Euro 2020

In both professional and amateur sport, the ability to be gracious in victory and defeat shapes the sporting experience for athletes and fans alike. To be gracious in victory, celebrating your win while also acknowledging the effort of your opponent demonstrates a recognition that the value of sport is more than winning. While the ability to maintain perspective in defeat, exhibiting grace and humility in the face of a loss, is the sign of a true champion. Win or lose, the players and fans who embrace these virtues are truly living by the six Sport for Humanity principles: Compassion, Respect, Love, Enlightenment, Balance, Joy.

Throughout Euro 2020, we bore witness to poignant moments that demonstrated the power of sport to give joy and lift people’s spirits. This was a much-needed tonic after the challenging year and a half of the pandemic. Fans celebrated the sport and their teams with heightened love and enthusiasm, using the tournament as a rallying cry behind which they could unite and celebrate. Unfortunately, Euro 2020 also showed us the ugly side of sport, including extreme fanaticism, unsportsmanlike conduct, violence on and off the field, and racially motivated attacks through graffiti and online abuse. Reflecting on Euro 2020 through the Sport for Humanity lens we are able to use it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.


During the Denmark vs. Finland game, Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. His heart had stopped beating and he had gone into a cardiac arrest. He is alive today as a result of the quick response of his teammate, Simon Kjær, and other members of the Denmark team and medical staff. Despite their fear and anguish, the Danish players came together on the field, forming a protective circle around Eriksen that gave him and the medical staff privacy from fans and media. Recognizing this need for privacy, Finish fans gave their flags to staff so that they could create a privacy screen around Eriksen as he was removed from the field, and later, as they awaited news of Eriksen’s condition, Finish fans began chanting “Christian”. Danish fans joined in with their own responding chant of “Eriksen”. This incident shone a light on the deep compassion of the players and fans from both countries as they demonstrated that their love for the sport and its players was more important than whether their team won or lost.


It has become common practice for football teams to take a knee during the pre-game as a protest against racism, however, the Hungarian team declined to do this, believing it to be a banned political statement. Instead, they chose to point to the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) RESPECT patch on their uniform during a moment of silence. First launched in 2008, the objective of the RESPECT campaign is to support local communities, tackle social issues and work towards unity and respect across gender, race, religion and ability.


In honour of Pride month, German captain Manuel Neuer’s wore a rainbow coloured armband during the EURO 2020 games to show his support of the LGBTQ2S+ community. He was sanctioned by UEFA for making a political statement, but the charges were later dropped as it was determined that was actually making a human rights statement.

The German team shared the news via their Twitter account:

Germany Twitter


A wonderful run of victories and quite entertaining performances brought the English team to the Euro 2020 final against Italy. Having previously made it to the final but never having won, the country emotions were running high at the prospect of a historic win on English soil. In losing, the country’s hopes for victory were dashed, with some fans unfortunately expressing their frustration in the most hideous and hurtful ways; aiming messages of hurt and racial discrimination at some of the team’s players. However, the world came together and rallied around the victims, letting it be known that there is no place for hate in sport.

English soccer fan Israel Powell, age 8, posted the following letter on the mural of Marcus Rashford that was defaced by vandals:

“Dear Saka, Sancho and Rashford, I like you because you did the best you could do. It’s OK if you didn’t score, I’m still proud of you.”


One of the greatest examples of balance coming out of the Euro 2020 tournament came from Portugal, Belgium, France and Germany who all underperformed yet accepted their early defeat with grace. Each of these teams recognized that they were playing for more than the win, more than glory. Their attitude was a reflection of the balance that we hope all players take from sport – a recognition that at every stage of life, the most important thing is to play for fun, for health, for friendship.

“Just look at what we can do when we work together.”

–Marcus Rashford, Premier League club Manchester United and the England national football team


Winning in sport certainly brings with it an abundance of joy, but ultimately, the greatest and most satisfying joy comes from teamwork and a positive attitude. This was the type of joy exhibited by the Italian team from the very start of the tournament. Long before they experienced the elated joy of their win, they captivated fans with an unencumbered happiness derived from their love of the game and the knowledge that they were giving it their all. Unfortunately, this joy which inspired a strong feeling of national pride in many fans, turned ugly when a handful of fans adopted an attitude of tribalism rather than nationalism, causing them to lash out at others. This type of behavior has no place in sport or in life.

Values in Sport

Euro 2020 was like a breath of fresh air for sports fans from around the world who came together to celebrate their teams, their nations, and a return to normal after a period of uncertainty and isolation. Throughout the tournament, we were moved and inspired by moments of Love, Joy and Compassion. We were also reminded that sport without values is a disservice to sport and to humanity. We challenge you to continue to find balance in all that you do so that you can Live Like You Play.