A Time to Unite Through Football

IT was a decision that, in light of Friday’s terrorism attacks in Paris, a national footballing governing body had to get right.

And it did.

After careful deliberation between the British government and the French Football Federation (FFA), it was announced that a 23-man French squad will travel to England for their friendly against the Lions at Wembley on Tuesday night in spite of the terrorist atrocities in Paris which killed 129 people on Friday night.

Some may think that it will be too early and perhaps disrespectful to even consider contemplating football in light of what has happened, including the detonation of suicide bombers outside the Stade de France whilst France played Germany. Others might see it as naïve decision which could jeopardise the safety of fans and players at the match which, merely days ago, was nothing more than just a normal friendly between two countries. Now it has suddenly become a high profile event.

What can be agreed on, however, is that the pinnacle of televised sport and a global culture that is Football –  the game that is loved, played, watched and enjoyed by millions on this planet – was the latest victim to be dragged into the war on peace. It is now believed that the bombers who targeted the Stade de France had intended to cause further death inside and to target French President Francois Hollande, who watched the match for the first 20 minutes before abruptly leaving to declare a national state of emergency.

Lassana Diarra, (circled) lost a cousin in Friday’s attacks         Image: The Sunday Times

However, to agree that the going-ahead of tomorrow’s game is inappropriate is to misunderstand the importance of unity that sport can bring in times of hardship and despair. England fans will not gather at Wembley tomorrow in hope of watching whether Jesse Lingard, on making his senior debut, can emulate the sweet strike that he so crisply struck at Old Trafford two weeks ago. Nor will they come to see if Hodgson’s latest up-front formation could be deemed to have potential for the Euros next summer. They will come because the score line in tomorrow’s match does not matter. They will come to show solidarity for Les Bleus.

The decision to allow the game to be played is both a remarkable and positive move on behalf of the FFA and the FA and one which English and French football wanted to see. It is also another fine example of the active and defiant character that France is displaying in response to Friday’s massacres.

Although tomorrow’s encounter is only a friendly, several sporting fixtures that were supposed to be played throughout France were immediately cancelled over the weekend, including all European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup matches as well as an international taekwondo tournament which was due to be held in Paris.

If the game had been scheduled on French soil, the story might be different. Yet, most significantly, all 23 players who were a part of France’s 2-0 win over Germany on Friday night will travel to Wembley, despite French manager Didier Deschamps offering all of them the chance to withdraw from the game – a feat which make the game all the more poignant and passionate between the two sides. Among them will be former Arsenal, Chelsea and Portsmouth player Lassana Diarra, who announced that a female cousin of his, Asta Diakite, had been a victim in one of the shootings. Also affected was French striker Antoine Griezmann, who revealed on social media that his sister had managed to escape from the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people were killed.

Image: The Guardian

The support and unity in light of the attacks – the worst to hit Europe since the Madrid bombings in 2004 – has erupted on an international scale. Such was the illumination of state buildings across several capital cities in the colours of the French Tricolour on Saturday night. This was not only a defiant endeavour to radiate global support for the cultural values that France has stood for since its democratic revolution in 1789, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity), but also to show how the world will inevitably share a country’s values when confronted with terrorism.

And it is Fraternité – the very act of brother ship – which Roy Hodgson wants England fans and players to embrace for their French visitors tomorrow night. The England manager has welcomed the decision to play the match, stating the “football world is united against these atrocities”.

There is no doubt that the French players who will run out on Tuesday night will be emotionally charged for a game where respect, sportsmanship and footballing brother ship will be the most influential players in shaping the score line. England fans have even been asked to sing La Marseillaise alongside their French counterparts and it is hoped that the FA will back this initiative. An online petition has been set up calling for the FA to make the game “a symbol of friendship and fraternite” by donating to the French Red Cross and the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres. It is not known whether the aims of the petition will materialise, as a spokesman for the FA announced that funds raised from the game would be donated to Breast Cancer Care International.

The chanting of La Marseillaise by both sets of supporters would nevertheless present itself as a fitting opportunity for English Football to help mark the end of France’s three days of national mourning.

It is, after all, a revolutionary song, an anthem to freedom, a patriotic call that was traditionally sung to mobilize French citizens to fight against oppression. Never has there been a more poignant moment for the Marseillaise to live up to its name in mobilizing home and away fans to unite against the futile aims of a barbaric and depraved militant organisation known as Islamic State.

It is rightly said that terrorism has no place in religion. It has no place in sport either.

Fiona Tomas 

Featured image: Sportal 





Leave a Reply