Sports rivals unite on hallowed turf

Freedom, equality, brotherhood: England offered to call off last night’s game with France © PA

Four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, England and France stood together in solidarity before playing a football match. What role can sport play in healing a nation’s wounds?

England manager Roy Hodgson said last night’s football match against France would ‘not be a normal friendly’. He was right: the night was rich in symbolism and emotion; the result of little importance. [For the record England won the match 2-0.]

Europe will never forget Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris. As well as the killing by terrorists of people at a concert hall and two restaurants, three attackers blew themselves up outside the national football stadium, the Stade de France, where France were playing Germany. At least one of the suicide bombers had a ticket for the match. Luckily, he was turned away, Had he entered the ground, the city’s death toll could have been far higher.

The French team was directly affected by the attack: midfielder Lassana Diarra’s cousin was killed at the Bataclan. Winger Antoine Griezmann’s sister was also at the concert but managed to escape.

Despite fears of another attack, more than 70,000 people attended the game last night. For many, the chance to show solidarity with France mattered more than the match itself. Some England supporters joined in the French national anthem, La Marseilleise, and a minute’s silence was observed before kick-off. The Wembley arch was lit up in the French flag’s colours of red, white and blue.

Sport has a tendency to mend wounds of the past: it is something that draws a wide variety of people together, and so has significant political and social power. During apartheid, South African sports teams were banned from international competitions. But after the policy was abolished in 1991, the South African rugby union team became a symbol of the reborn nation. The image of Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to François Pienaar, a white Afrikaner, after South Africa won the World Cup on home soil in 1995, is one of history’s most iconic sporting moments.

A new religion

Many are now saying that sport is a new religion Think of the similarities: there is devotion to a cause; there is singing and rituals to observe; there are uniforms to wear. The referee takes on a role similar to a priest. Groups of people come together for a single purpose, sometimes in huge numbers and sometimes few: if Wembley is a cathedral, then non-league grounds are small parish churches.

Let’s not exaggerate, say others. While it is good that sport allows thousands to communally pay their respects to the victims of the Paris attacks, its similarities to religion are superficial. Religion is about life, death, mortality and morality; sport, for many, is simply a bit of casual enjoyment, and it should stay that way.

You Decide

  1. What is more important: sport or religion?
  2. What would be worse: a world without sport or a world without religion?

Activities

  1. Think of a culturally significant sporting event and make a presentation about it to your class.
  2. Try to come up with an original way you could show solidarity with France after Friday’s attacks.

Some People Say...

“People should stop saying sport is important. It simply isn’t.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t like sport.
Last night’s match was not really about sport: it was about unity and remembrance, which anyone can understand. And it is particularly interesting for people who are not interested in sport to consider why so many people are. Why does something so seemingly minor rule people’s emotions?
Thank goodness the game last night wasn’t attacked.
Security at last night’s match was extremely tight, with armed police patrolling the area around Wembley Stadium all day. And even though Islamic State is more concerned with keeping hold of its territory, many fear that a terrorist attack in Britain is not far away. Friday was not the first time a sporting event has been targeted by terrorists: in 1972 Palestinian militants attacked the Olympic Games in Munich.

Word Watch

Friendly
Last night’s match, as well as the game between France and Germany, were not competitive fixtures. Instead they were friendly matches to prepare for the European Championships, which are being held in France next summer.
Stade de France
The sound of bombs going off outside the stadium was clearly audible during the first half of the France vs Germany match.
La Marseilleise
The French national anthem was written in 1792. The first two lines are ‘Allons enfants de la Patrie / Le jour d’honneur est arrivé!’ which means ‘Arise, children of the Fatherland / The day of glory has arrived’.
Apartheid
Apartheid, which means ‘being apart’, was a system of racial segregation whereby black people were treated as second-class citizens. The world ostracised South Africa for enforcing apartheid, which was abolished after a forty-year long struggle led by Nelson Mandela.
Afrikaner
A white Southern African ethnic group descended from Dutch settlers. Their language, Afrikaans, is very similar to Dutch.

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