Chapecoense FC plane crash shows the game has still got the humanitarian grasp
The game is in an era where many consider it to be all about "money-grabbing", but the heartfelt gestures and tributes that have flooded in from the football world have shown that the sport still holds humanity dearly, and empathises with casualties like Chapecoense who were blighted in line of duty.
It was tragic, it was disheartening and it was emotionally debilitating. The world woke up to a day that will go down as one of the darkest days in recent football history. In the early hours of Tuesday (precisely 03:27 GMT) when news flooded the various social media platforms that a plane carrying 81people, including players and staff of Brazilian Serie A side Chapecoense, had crashed with only five people surviving, it put the entire football world in a state of pandemonium.
The plane also carried journalists and other guests who were traveling with the delegation to Medellin for the first leg of Chapecoense's Copa Sudamericana final against Colombian side Atletico Nacional. This was a journey that began with optimism and promise from players, staff and journalists alike who were in line of duty. They stared greatness in the face as they set off to do what they are most passionate about. But the joy, the hope and the dream of the small city of Chapeco was short-lived thanks to this painful misfortune. Once again the football world mourns; and the tributes that have flooded in show that the game has still got its altruistic and humanitarian senses intact.
Football is in an era where many see it as a business adventure and nothing more. For some, the welfare of players is least taken into consideration, with all attention on the promotions, stadium attendances and the commercials. Others believe that fans only care about the win, lose or draw that transpires on the pitch within 90 minutes; no one bothers to ask about the real men behind the ones wearing the jerseys, their families or their troubles off-the-pitch. If any, there are very few who take the pain to find out about the psychological and emotional states of players away from the pitches and the cameras. In truth, that is a genuine concern especially looking at the trajectory of past events.
In 2011 when then-Wales national team coach Gary Speed committed suicide, it totally took the football world by surprise. Never was it suspected that the man who looked all smiling, happy and energetic on the sidelines and during interviews was suffering from depression. Normally, players are thought to be immune to worries and the troubles of general life, but the Gary Speed episode completely changed that notion. It indicated to the world that football players are also human after all. Roger Speed - father to Gary Speed - described his tragic death as "horrendous" as he could simply not understand what could have caused his son to take his own life. As hard as the news hit Roger Speed, so did it equally drown the world in sorrow.
Five years ago Wales wept, but it was the entire football world that cried. And that was summed by the tributes directed to Gary Speed's family, most notably that of his former international teammate Robbie Savage who, amid tears on the BBC News, bemoaned: "He [Gary Speed] had a caring, loving family and was doing great at his job. Why has this happened? It’s the most incredible news I’ve heard in my lifetime." It was mystifying but the football world was there to show solidarity - the spirit of humanity prevailed.
Right now CONMEBOL, Brazilian football and Chapecoense are in flames, but it is the entire football fraternity that burns. The spirit of humanity that the game was built on is still thriving and that shows the football community still cares about those who suffer casualties in line of duty. The tributes have come thick and fast from all angles around the globe, but the gestures have been even more impressive.
Consternation has shrouded the wreck but the football community stands united behind Chapecoense. They worked so hard to get here but all their efforts look void. This a club built on a collective base. The players, the management and the board shared a common goal: to achieve something special. The atmosphere before the fatal crash was filled with joy, merry and hilarity. A posthumous video posted on twitter showed the team in high spirits when they boarded the flight chanting; "here we come Colombia!". As they boarded that plane, the only thing that was on their minds was victory against Atletico Nacional in Medellin. Unfortunately, a downturn of fate will not allow that dream to see the light of day.
"There were lifelong friends on this flight and we think it will have been very hard for them to have survived this accident," president of the Chapecoense, Plinio David de Nes Filho said on programme Bom Dia Brasil.
"This wasn't just a group of people who respected each other professionally. It was a family, a group of friends. Everybody laughed so much, even in defeat. There was a great atmosphere, great joy. Yesterday morning, when I said goodbye to them, they said that they were going off to make our dreams come true. We shared this dream with all our emotion. And in the early hours of this morning, that dream came to an end."
That dream might have come to an end, but the world sees a future; one with light at the end of the tunnel and empathises with them. Chapecoense is currently wounded, but it is the entire football community that bleeds and shares the pain.
The road to the final of the Copa Sudamericana - South America's second most prestigious club competition - was all but tough. Chapecoense had to battle through some of the continental heavyweights to reach this stage. This is a club that has seen a massive rise from the fourth tier of Brazilian football to the topflight in just seven years. Qualification to the final of the Copa Sudamericana is the greatest achievement in the club's history, but one which the lieutenants would not live to complete.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino led the tributes with an emotional message to the families of the lost souls, describing the incident as "a very, very sad day for football". But the greatest show of sportsmanship came from Atletico Nacional - supposed opponents of Chapecoense in the Copa Sudamericana final - who in a statement called on CONMEBOL to "award the title of the Copa Sudamericana to the Association Chapecoense de Futebol in honour of their great loss and in posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident that our sport now mourn".
In another heart-warming gesture, Brazilian clubs have elected to loan players to Chapecoense for free in order to help them rebuild their team. Other clubs have also petitioned the Brazilian football hierarchy to exempt Chapecoense from relegation for the next three years. The humanitarian pores of the game is at an all time high and it comes at a time when the sport has been plagued by humanity issues. Football, like other sports, has been blighted by issues of racism and sexism, which are yet to be fully uprooted from the game. But each time there is a casualty - or a victim - the football community rises and speaks in unison to lend a helping hand.
Last week when news broke about young footballers being sexually abused by paedophile coaches in UK academies, it signalled a low point for the game. But the support that those victims received from the football community goes a long way to uphold the claim that the game really cares about those who are victimized in line of duty. That is the kind of defence the sport is supposed to put up for its actors who are blighted or affected in one way or the other. It might not be perfect, but the efforts are worthy of notice.
And so just like the ‘Superga’ air disaster which involved Torino in 1949; the Munich air disaster that Manchester United encountered; and the unfortunate Zambia national team that crashed with lots of people losing their lives, the name Chapecoense will forever be etched into the heart of every football loving fan across the globe.
And like Atletico Nacional succinctly put it: 'it must not only be about the competitive aspect, but also one must worry about the human side'. Chapecoense has been stripped bear, but it is the entire football community that was found naked. The football world has united and it is for one course; giving Chapecoense the support they need and deserve.
But as the football world unites behind Chapecoense, it also typifies the game's commitment towards human life, and affirms the sport's value for humanity. And so though Chapecoense is bereaved, the entire football community mourns with them, and that is evidenced by the tremendous support shown across the globe. They deserve it.