My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
The events in Paris last Friday have led people trying to comprehend what happened, and how football reacts (and sport generally) has become a question. France are hosting the European Championships next year with 51 matches, and after the attacks at the Stade de France during the France vs Germany match – genuine fears are going to be raised, but it would be wrong to even consider postponing or moving the tournament at this point. The authorities have time to implement security procedures and try to make sure fans are safe.
But, with England due to play France in a friendly football match on Tuesday, there is an interesting moral question – should sport ever stop? Lassana Diarra lost his cousin in the attacks whilst Antoine Griezmann’s sister was caught up at the events at the Bataclan theatre, but fortunately survived. And then, there is the psychological effect that comes with your country being attacked. The English players will have friends potentially caught up in the events.
The football games at the weekend marked their respect with a minute silence and these are an appropriate method of respect in those ties. But, the England-France game is where a tricky dilemma sits. The French Football Association took the decision the game should go ahead, with it reported that the English FA expected a postponement. With the French players not being consulted, this is possibly an ill-formed decision, but this is a decision that has no right or wrong answers.
Whether you are a sports fan or not, it is impossible to deny that sport is ingrained in our culture. In England, players like David Beckham and in France, Zinedine Zidane are universal figures and heroes. They are part of so many people’s way of life: in Britain, 3pm on a Saturday is almost a religious event. So when facing an attack which targeted a country’s culture, identity and way of life, isn’t it wrong that the game should be postponed?
This is the classic ‘we can’t let the terrorists win’ argument which, in the long-term, is a valid argument. And this has a precedent. In World War Two, the government quickly overturned its ban on football leading to regional competitions to play with crowd limits imposed depending on the stadium’s location. More recently, when the 7/7 attacks took place, the 2005 Ashes continued as planned. And the 2012 Olympics remained in London.
However, what about the short-term argument? These players who will be lining up at Wembley are human beings. The French players themselves were attacked for just kicking a ball around a pitch. Their friends and family have been caught up in the tragic events and it was their capital that was attacked, it was their identity, their culture, their people that are in shock.
Think about it. If you lost a loved one or had a loved one caught up in a terrifying event, of course, you would take time off work. And yet, these players have not been given that opportunity. Have they been allowed to grieve?
Here is the point, though. At the beginning of this blog, I made a small mistake. I said France and England were playing a football match, whereas this could not be further from the truth. A football match implies tactics matter, that both sets of fans want their team to win. Each French goal will be cheered by English fans who will sing the French national anthem. This is an act of solidarity, a statement of what links the country.
If this had been PSG versus Arsenal, then I think the game would have been postponed. But it goes against what national teams are. Club football separates us by suburbs, towns, cities. International football unites us all, it brings all our identities together in one unifying moment. The players, wearing that shirt, become an ambassador for their country.
As England manager Roy Hodgson said at his press conference:
“I still believe tomorrow night will be about us showing solidarity and people writing about the reasons for this football match being played rather than what happens on the field….I’ve got to say I’m finding it hard to balance the enormity of the occasion with questions about the football players.”
The French manager Didier Deschamps said:
“We are here to represent our country and its colours blue, white and red with even more pride than we normally would.”
When France play England at Wembley, no one will care about the result. Because the game will provide a bigger political statement on France’s (and their allies) refusal to ‘allow the terrorist to win’ compared to any speech made by a politician – simply because it will unite every French person.
And this is where the dilemma really stands. Because those French players will represent their country at a stadium that is sometimes considered the cathedral of football. Whether the game went ahead or is postponed, there are huge issues that cannot be overcome.
Lastly, the French player Lassana Diarra (a Muslim) posted a message on Twitter which included the message:
“In this climate of terror, it is important for all of us who represent our country and its diversity to stay united against a horror which has no colour, no religion.”
— Lass Diarra (@Lass_Officiel) November 14, 2015