Beautiful moment from the ashes of tragedy in the beautiful game
SOMETIMES a story breaks that restores your faith in humanity and the decision to award Brazilian club Chapecoense the Copa Sudamericana after most of their team died in a plane crash en route to the final on November 30 definitely fulfils that tremendous standard.
Seventy-one people, including 19 players and staff, were killed in the crash on the way to Colombia for the first leg. Three Chapecoense players were among six people to survive the crash.
Colombian opponents Atletico Nacional, who asked for Chapecoense to be awarded the trophy, have been given a Fair Play by award by South American soccer's governing body CONMEBOL to acknowledge their 'spirit of peace, understanding and fair play'.
Chapecoense will be given the $2m in prize money, while Atletico Nacional will receive $1m.
Chapecoense vice-president Ivan Tozzo hailed the decision as 'justice', saying: 'It is a beautiful tribute'. To put it in perspective the team's success was akin to Cork City FC getting to the Europa League final and the little city's inhabitants were in a state of euphoria about getting so far. A moment of gross negligence, a decision, an action to not fuel the plane, which killed so many beautiful lives, is being investigated. Bolivian authorities took airline LaMia's CEO Gustavo Vargas and two other employees into custody as part of investigation that 'could easily turn into manslaughter'. The initial investigation was into possible criminal failure to follow safety procedures.
When I travelled around Brazil many years ago, it dawned on me how vital football is to the national psyche of the country's 200 million plus people. Spain, England, Italy have nothing on Brazil where football results are front page news every day and where children, teenagers and adults play the beautiful game all day into night. Arriving into lush Rio de Janeiro I was struck by how tropical and exotic the country was. Beach life and the body beautiful were a major part of the culture, as was playing football on the beach. In the frenetic microcosm of Rio you got a sense of a people who enjoyed the simple things in life and this was echoed throughout Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay where I also travelled.
The Significant Other and I latched onto a group of Sao Paolans and met some lovely people along the way, even if we didn't have a clue what they were saying most of the time. The beautiful game has been scarred by controversy in recent years and many people have fallen out of love with it. The name-your-price wages players are paid and scandals involving Sepp Blatter, among others in FIFA, have brought the game into disrepute. There was a time when football lifted nations. Think England in 1996, Argentina in 1978 and 1986 and Brazil in 2002, 1994, 1970, 1962 and 1958.
In the wake of the crash Brazil's leading football clubs have pledged to loan players to Chapecoense for free and asked for them to be safeguarded from relegation from the top flight for the next three seasons.
Former Brazil and Barcelona forward Ronaldinho and ex-Argentina international Juan Roman Riquelme have reportedly offered to play for the club, while another former Barca player, Eidur Gudjohnsen, offered his services.
It is when vulnerable, devastated people are most in need that true character is revealed and the people of South America have shown themselves to be truly inspiring.