The expression of solidarity was there for all to see last Tuesday night at Wembley as England hosted France, the visitors thoughts surely elsewhere. The famous arch was illuminated with the French tricolour, while the home fans partook in a booming, heartfelt rendition of La Marseillaise.
Western society has been shaken to its very core in the last seven days after the heinous, contemporaneous attacks on Paris which left 129 dead and hundreds more injured. And, those nations both geographically and politically closest to the France have responded with touching displays of solidarity.
We are however somewhat perplexed by the Premier League’s decision to have La Marseillaise played before all ten English top-flight games this weekend. Mark Ogden was extremely critical of the idea in Friday’s Daily Telegraph and, frankly, we somewhat agree with his viewpoint. Now, we do our best to avoid political discourse at Straight Up Sport but the last week has made this unavoidable. We can’t help but feel, as Ogden, that this weekend’s gesture, though wonderfully touching, conveys the entirely subjective and selective viewpoint of that area largely bracketed as ‘the West’.
What happened on Tuesday was a perfect show of fraternity, conveying to the French nation that Britain was standing with them in their time of darkness. Was it necessary, however, to extend it the symbolic gesture to a round of domestic fixtures? We know that we are walking on eggshells here, or worse still making a mountain out of a molehill, but there is no harm in asking the question: is the weekend wide rendition of La Marseillaise at the Premier League appropriate?
In a utopian society, politics and sport would rarely, if ever, intermingle. However, we do not live in paradise. FIFA’s greasy paw marks are all over world soccer while the Russian government has recently been exposed for their own unique interest in Russian athletics. And, these are but a few examples.
Sporting success, particularly on a national scale, brings with it a wave of euphoria – witness Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016 – and, for us, this is sport in its most perfect form. The mood of a nation almost irrationally lifted by on-field sporting success.
We are always told that soccer – in its on-field form – eschews politics but this weekend’s actions irrefutably suggest otherwise. We’ve lived our entire lives in the middle of the ‘Western world’ and are cognisant of the fact that western media drives our thinking.How many of us get up in the morning and tune in to Al-Jazeera news?
So, naturally our indignation towards atrocities close to home are generally encapsulated in pages one to four of domestic newspapers. News of a massacre in Maidiguri or Beirut may generate just a few column inches.
The problem, as has been widely highlighted in the last few days, is that Saturday’s gesture in effect means that if further tragedy befalls another country, then surely their national anthem should be played the following weekend at Premier League games. Why no rendition of ‘Arise, O Compatriots’, the national anthem of Nigeria, for the repeat atrocities carried out by the Boko Haram in Nigeria?
And, for the sake of balance, let’s take the proximity issue out of the equation. Belgium is currently on maximum alert for a potential terrorist attack. We’re not trying to go all Fox News here but what if an attack did occur there? Will the Belgian national anthem ‘La Brabanconne’ be heard from Newcastle to Bournemouth?
Look, we’re not naïve and we know that we have all developed prejudices based on what our media feed us on a daily basis. And we have no doubt that this is the case the world over. But why not be seen to take a global stance of solidarity? The Premier League’s gesture may be the start of something wonderful – remember 64 nations are represented in the 2015/2016 Premier League – or a well-meaning though unintentionally divisive act.
The recurring theme of the past seven days has been that life must go on, for to cower away into a shell of constant dread would be to bend toward and satisfy the will of a small number of sub-human misanthropes. The European Championships in France next summer will hopefully be a wonderful example of the restorative, uplifting effect that sport can have on entire nations. Without a doubt, fans will descend from Ireland, and we assume the rest of Europe, to collectively celebrate a joyous occasion. Our greatest response is to keep on living and try to keep on enjoying.
We’re inclined to agree with what Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino said on Saturday that, “the best way to pay a tribute to the families and people of Paris is to do our job and play.”
A perfect non-political approach conveying soccer’s desire to move on with life, which is the most important thing that any of us can do. Sometimes perspective can provide clarity. Pochettino’s reasoned sentiments do just that.