By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – On Wednesday, November 30th, in the stadium where the first of two games to determine the winner of this year’s Copa Sul Americana was scheduled to be held, more than forty thousand gathered, dressed in white, to honor the 71 people killed in a plane crash on Monday, November 28th. Among those killed were most of the players and staff of Brazil’s Chapacoense football (soccer) team, as well as twenty Brazilian journalists going to Medellin, Colombia to cover the championship final.
“We Brazilians will never forget how the Colombians reacted to the terrible disaster that interrupted the dream of the heroic Chapecoense team. Just as we will not forget the attitude of Atletico Nacional and all the fans who have asked for the title of the Copa Sul-Americana to be given to the Chapecoense. A gesture that honors the sport and that honors the beloved city of Medellín,” said Brazil’s Foreign Minister José Serra, in an emotional speech.
Choking back tears, Serra said numerous tributes from around the globe to the players and passengers of the LaMia flight also allowed the world to ‘bear witness to the importance of the nobility of sport as a catalyst for the best human sentiments as a weapon to combat intolerance, an instrument to build a better world’.
Brazil’s Footbal Confederation (CBF) also thanked the Colombian people for their tribute. “While suffering insists on hurting the spirit of family, friends and people who have been touched by the tragedy, the solidarity that arose from Chapecó and Medellín certainly touched the souls of all those who need support and strength during these difficult days,” said the CBF statement.
A similar tribute was seen in the Arena Condá stadium, in Chapeco, Santa Catarina where thousands of people gathered to remember their ‘native sons’. With the bleachers completely full, fans spent a better part of the night chanting songs of support, while players’ family members huddled together on the field for a tribute. According to local officials, a collective wake for the victims will be held at the Chapecoense stadium, probably on Friday. The date of the wake depends on the arrival of the bodies in Brazil.
And as tributes continue to pour in, rival Brazilian football teams have started thinking about the future of the Santa Catarina club. The four major São Paulo teams have asked CBF to allow the Chapecoense team to remain in the first division for the next two to three seasons, as the team tries to recover.
Eleven Brazilian teams have offered to loan players to the Chapecoense team, free of charge, for the 2017 season. Palmeiras, already the winner of the 2017 Brasileirão, has asked organizers to play their final championship game, against Vitoria, with Chapecoense jerseys.