Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There is a series of commercials on a national sports channel that asks the rhetorical question “It’s only football?”. This reflects the concept that, for some people, football match results shouldn’t matter, because, after all, football is just a game, not real life.
Real life, however, impinged upon football last week, when the airplane carrying the team from Chapecó, Santa Catarina, on its way to a first leg South American Cup final match in Medellin, Colombia, crashed into a mountain, killing almost all aboard.
That crash, and its aftermath, have shown just how great a role football plays in Brazil, and indeed in the rest of the world. “Força Chape!” has become the slogan of choice throughout Brazil. In some of the Sunday political demonstrations, Força Chape signs were more visible than “Fora Renan” or “Fora Temer”.
The Colombian team that Chapecó would have faced in the finals, immediately and elegantly requested Conmebol, the South American Football Confederation, to award the continental championship, in a sense posthumously, to Chapecó. Porto Alegre football team Internacional, traditionally one of Brazil’s strongest, requested the final round of games in the Brazilian national championship be cancelled, even though that meant they would be relegated next season.
Football matches around the world held a minute of silence for the Chapecoenses. Players abroad placed green Chapecoense emblems on their own club shirts, or wore green uniform shirts under theirs, and showed them after scoring goals—referees declined to impose the obligatory penalty on anyone who did so.
Surely the most emotional answer to the rhetorical question above was demonstrated by the coverage of the funeral cortege, as the caskets proceeded slowly down Chapecó’s tree-lined main avenue to a funeral service in the local stadium. Torrential rain poured down during the entire journey, while the streets and stadium were packed with people pouring out tears, in sympathy and solidarity for the grieving families and friends.
Even those of us watching on TV could not keep a dry eye.