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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 42 - August 2004   
 What on earth …?
 The war on mycotoxins
 Small country, high standards
 Combative researchers
 The journey of a flying Dutchman
 Rogue waves

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OPINION Printable version

A touch of sportsman's nonchalance

In this year of the Olympics there will be no shortage of comparisons between the world of sport and other fields of human endeavour, such as exporting democracy in Iraq, organised crime, scientific research, the eradication of transgenic maize, or European integration.

The economic, political and social construction of a new continent, by an increasing number of nations in the so-called Old World, is symbolised by the unfurling of a flag whose stars are dancing a largely convivial round, whereas the stars of other unions are lined up in military formation. At first, this seems to augur well.  

But apart from the flags, what about adherence, co-operation and enthusiasm, for Europe in general and for its researchers in particular? The people of Europe were notable for their absence at the time of elections to the European Parliament, while the European Cup drew them in their masses, either to Portugal or to their TV screens. 

Footballers certainly have qualities denied to politicians or scientists. They are still young, in good health (except for the effects of the occasional rough tackle or living the ‘high life’) and receive huge salaries. Their game owes much to chance and is played amidst a feverish atmosphere, further amplified by the media circus. They also keep their promises, on average, on one in two occasions, a statistic which is unimaginable in politics. Finally, unlike politicians, frequently sent packing by dissatisfied voters, or researchers, too often locked into linear careers which have little to do with performance, they benefit from relocation, football clubs always being ready to speculate on the value of players with a view to the next transfer deal. 

So is it realistic to hope to breathe new life into the European enterprise, and its research component in particular, by directly transposing the ingredients of sport? Of course not.

But we can ponder that enthusiasm for Europe and, in regard to our own priorities, the taste for sciences, would be more widely apparent if, rather than always focusing on the serious, the constraints and the risks of failure, we were prepared to allow this lightness of spirit to unfurl – the same spirit which is so successful in football and which comes so easily to the young. The very spirit, in fact, which your candid chronicler of European research endeavours to display.  

We could even dream of a high turnout at the next European elections at which the candidates, over and above being winners or losers, or allied to a particular country or party, would be heroes, an occasion at which frivolity and fervour would be present in equal measure, and in which the citizens of Europe would quite simply be proud to participate.