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Balls and Bavarian beer

Considering that we are now in the midst of world cup fever one may be permitted to forget our everyday qualms and hope that football euphoria makes us focus about the lighter side of life. Leisure and games are inextricably linked to enjoyment and drink. Beer is an intrinsic part of Bavarian culture where the opening match was held. Naturally the football event will need no encouragement for Bavarian citizens and all visitors to indulge in beer drinking and stuffing their faces with pork sausages.

During Munich’s Oktoberfest alone, more than five million litres of the foaming brew made from hops and malt is poured down the throats of thirsty visitors every year. Typically the beer gardens such as the famous HopBrauHaus will be packed.

It goes without saying that whether your side wins or loses in the authentic Bavarian beer tradition all will raise a glass and toast: “schwoam mas owe “or literally translated “down the hatch”!

Regretfully, the odds do not seem so good for the host country. The favourites are the Brazilians who are hitting their peak just at the right time. The squad as a whole looks in good shape and the chances are high. Most Germans have by now sobered up to the fact that the odds are not high for winning. Of course nothing can be excluded and the fighting spirit of the blond Teutonic knights may surprise us all.

However, the omens so far point to a shaky series of preliminary matches for the Germans. These included a 1-4 loss to Italy which has left a sour note with the bookmakers.

And while on the subject ‘Italy’ one cannot help but conjure the image of their golden player Signor Totti. Can he save Italy and give it a winning streak?

Many are hoping for a miraculous revival of the “blues”. In any world cup event there will always be the secondary teams from exotic countries who create a stir and bring in their colourful characteristics. To start with we welcome the arrival of the team from Angola. This country’s latest economic revival is financed partly by revenues from oil and other natural resources which can secure a better equipped squad. Sharing the limelight on the global scene, one wonders how ironically 70 per cent of Angolans live in poverty. Their future hinges upon overcoming 27 years of civil war and discord. One cannot ever forget that an estimated 1 million people were killed in the fighting that ended in 2002. But that is the beauty of football, it brings some relief for the underdog and more importantly for the players, the event offers a unique opportunity to showcase their skills to European clubs.

Thanks to its recent oil riches, the Angolan squad can claim to be one of the most powerful in Africa. Although the odds on winning the coveted title are low this team will add some glamour and may surprise spectators.

Can we ever forget the arrival of the Iranian team, a country that has stirred so much turbulence over its craving to enrich uranium allegedly for use in energy generation? Iran’s national team is regarded as its best ever. This maverick team who missed the 2002 world Cup now boasts of a talented young squad lead by the veteran striker Ali Daei and ably coached by Branko Ivankovic.

Nobody doubts that the positive effect from this mega investment in infrastructure, such as the renovation of old stadiums or the construction of brand new ones can be seen.

Being the most popular TV event and a global brand name, the tournament could potentially open doors and serve as a window of opportunity for the sluggish German economy. It is the sincere hope of politicians that with over a million visitors this crowd will give the country a shot in the arm. Many expect that vacationers will not just pack up their bags and fly straight home after the final match but empty their wallets in the hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. Others are less optimistic and report that a number of hotels in cities where the games are taking place report no extra occupancy. In their opinion, there is always the danger that the regular guests will be pushed away when such large events come into town. This is the price to pay. This price comes in the wake of cancellations of a number of conferences and conventions that normally take place in late June have been scheduled for other times in the year or even cancelled altogether. Optimists remind us that fans are projected to spend or generate €1.8 billion in new business but as can be expected there are a number of visitors and events which are postponing their holidays in Germany to avoid the crowds. But away with the doom mongers and let us focus on the positive side. In some areas of the German economy an upbeat effect is already being noticed. Television manufacturer Loewe says that its sales jumped by 38 percent in the first quarter of 2006 as reported by the “DPA “ news agency, mostly through sales of flat-screen TVs. Another successful plasma and LCD TV maker is Philips. This company is expecting sales of flat-screens to double. Sports wear is also on the rebound and it stands to reason that Adidas is anticipating an extra €1.2 billion worth of sports shoes and sales of other football related apparel. And when it comes to the hotel industry, there is cause for optimism. Many of the lower end hotels are likely to fill up with last minute visitors who avoided making reservations weeks and months in advance. It is a common feature that fans leave booking to the last minute often waiting to see how well their teams do before deciding to book their accommodation. So can the euphoria of football help swing round the fortunes which eluded former Chancellor Herr Schroeder so far?

The answer may be found by reading the forecast by the Kiel Institute for World Economics. This is one of six economic think-tanks that provide forecasts for the German government and is raising its estimates for economic growth in Germany in the midst of the football fever, expecting real GDP to increase by an additional 1.5 per cent in 2006. A more recent study by the German Chamber of Commerce (DIHK) strikes an optimistic note by predicting that the World Cup will have a positive impact on Germany’s economic growth. It anticipates that the once in a lifetime event will create 60,000 new jobs and boost Germany’s overall economic growth. Another study conducted by the German Chamber of Commerce which was based on a survey of around 20,000 companies, revealed that jobs will be created in the areas of hospitality management, advertising, professional security and short-term employment services.

Small business is expecting an increase of 2.2 billion ($2.6 billion) euros in a booming consumer rally. To put the tournament in some perspective, one can recall that the organizers of the Euro 2004 in Portugal also saw the soccer event as an economic awakening. In Portugal a mini construction boom was created when ten new stadiums were erected at a total cost of 650 million euros. All this has helped in no small manner to regenerate 40,000 jobs together with a 1.2 per cent economic expansion in 2004 .By comparison 2003 registered a negative figure of 1.1 per cent as Portugal was then in a recession.

Back to the World Cup and quoting Mr Beckenbauer, the president of host Germany’s organising committee, more than three million tickets have been sold. As a reminder, the World Cup final ends on July 9 while the games are hosted in 12 German cities.

So let the games continue and let the best team win. No Crystal ball can divulge the future so we can relax, stuff our faces and drink to the merriment of our colleagues whether we win or lose. As the Bavarians say bottoms up, and down the hatch or “Schwoam mas owe”.

Malta Today - 13 June 2006
 
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