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The Power of Sport
read in Macedonian


Macedonia did not get the bronze medal in the European Basketball Championship on Sunday.  It was a disappointing end to what many in the international press called a “surprise team” and “dream run” showing by Macedonia, but the entire run up to the final four – in which Macedonia battled it out on the court against Spain, with Russia and France on the other side – was even more important for a number of reasons, once again a living testament to the power of sport. 

First, it gave Macedonians a great more deal of pride, especially poignant as you were in the midst of celebrating 20 years as a modern-day nation-state.  The incredible showing proved to you that, although a small country geographically and numerically, Macedonia has the capability of standing among other giants on many levels.  The New York Times quoted Georgi Filipovski from Skopje stating “Borche and the players have positioned us shoulder to shoulder with giant nations and have shown us that Macedonia is a great nation.  They wiped out our inferiority complex about being losers from a small, insignificant country.” 

Second, the team unified Macedonia.  Everyone – regardless of ethnicity – was cheering for Macedonia.  Dejan Lekic, secretary general of Macedonia’s basketball federation, was quoted in The New York Times stating “When we play, the entire country stops what they are doing,” he said. “Even our Albanian population is rooting for us, which is important for unifying us a country.”  And that is true – I had the privilege of being in Macedonia the week of September 8 and watched you beat Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia and then Slovenia – and I too, stopped what I was doing to watch, and then celebrate. 

Third, I can’t think of a time in recent memory when Macedonia has been in the news in such a positive manner and when the constitutional name of the country has been so often used in the international press.  There were literally thousands of articles written where Macedonia was referred to simply as, well, Macedonia.  Which just goes to show everyone – outside of a few fools in international organizations who can’t do the right thing by calling Macedonia, Macedonia – that most thinking people around the world don’t care what Greece, or the EU, or the UN, or NATO or the OIC or the European Basketball Association say – the country has been, is and shall be forevermore, Macedonia.  End of story.  The New York Times even devoted a whole article to Macedonia and the team highlighting the country and people.  And USA Today quoted Macedonia center Predrag Samardziski as stating “We fought hard the whole tournament and we wanted the bronze, but it didn’t happen. Now, everybody knows us. We are a small country but they have to fight hard to beat us.”  And that is right – everybody knows Macedonia now.   

Fourth, it showed the world a different and positive side of Macedonia.  USA Today wrote this about Macedonia:  “In basketball terms, it never achieved any success, although it made the second round at the Europeans two years ago. Now it is one of the top teams on the continent.”  It is difficult to find higher praise.   

Fifth, it showed the power of friends, friends like Bo McCalebb, a great American and a great Macedonian.  Bo’s willingness to play for Macedonia proves that first, Macedonia has many friends and second, that Macedonia’s friends – whether they have a background in politics, finance, art, education, religion, or sport – can help to put a positive spotlight on Macedonia and can help in bringing together Macedonians of all backgrounds.   

Finally, of course all members of the team were just that – members of the team who all individually contributed to its incredible success.  This was brought home to me when I read a quote from team captain Pero Antic: “We were from the start of the EuroBasket 2011 considered as the guys who would fall first but we showed to everybody that we had a big heart, that we fight for each other and that we have for sure the best chemistry in this EuroBasket ... from the youngest to the oldest, to the equipment guy, we are all together. There is not one individual in our team.” “There is not one individual in our team” – what a fantastic quote and what a perfect way of summing up where Macedonia is today and where it is going.  We are all in this journey together of making a better Macedonia – each and every day – and we all have a role to play.  

Macedonia has turned a corner in many ways with its 20th anniversary.  Your exceptional performance in basketball has merely affirmed my belief – and the belief of many others – that Macedonia’s best days are ahead.  My hearty congratulations to the entire Macedonian basketball team and my heart-felt congratulations to Macedonia.  You continue to make me proud.

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Jason Miko
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