When Bosnia qualified for its first World Cup, thousands took to the streets across the country in wild and jubilant celebrations. As preparations for Brazil ramped up, nobody expected a catastrophic flood situation to envelop the country.
The region was hit with what experts call the worst flood in over 120 years. Since it began, the rising waters have caused millions of dollars worth of damage, a rising regional death toll currently at 40 and close to a million displaced people. For a population of 3.5 million people, it’s a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions.
For the Bosnian national team, this isn't just added motivation. It’s a mission.
I think it's important for the people, for the world, to know this is not a game. This is something serious. So many people have lost their lives, lost their homes. They were trying to build something for themselves and for their kids over the past 20 years and they've lost it just like that.
The swelling rivers have caused numerous other problems, including landslides and the specter of the country's past to rear its ugly head. Millions of uncleared land mines from the 1990s war still dot the landscape in the country, and the flood situation threatens to shift them and expose them to the surface, potentially causing more deaths.
The Bosnian national team took action. Besides Edin Dzeko's social media campaign, the football federation organized a friendly match against the U21 team that was played in Gradacac, in one of the regions hit the worst. The senior side celebrated a win but more importantly raised over $50,000 from ticket sales, completely donated to flood victims.
The Dragons traveled to Maglaj, one of the most heavily hit towns in northern Bosnia, and directly participated in the donation effort. They signed shirts, took pictures and handed out donations, but above all, they did what they do best: brought good will to a population on its knees.
As the other 31 World Cup nations finalize their preparations and get ready to travel, the Dragons leave behind a country on its knees and a population in tears. Zvjezdan Misimovic, the most capped Bosnian player in history perhaps said it best (link in Bosnian), "We have the duty, and the honor to do our part, to help in any way we can."
For Bosnia, the national football team goes beyond sports and athletics. It transcends ethnic identity, religion and individualism. It goes to the World Cup not to show off its might, but to show the character of the Bosnian people, as their direct representatives.