Sometimes, sports can divide the world. Sometimes, it can unite it, as totally unconnected people stretch out to show support. Case in point: the terrorist attacks in Paris.
While the world watched scenes of horror unfold in France’s capital city, the sports world carried the message that solidarity could resonate more loudly than any bomb blast.
On Friday, one of the blasts, which occurred outside Stade de France during a France/Germany soccer friendly, distracted players and spectators. USA Today noted the athletes in the thick of the game heard the noise but had no ideas of the devastation unfolding nearby and were stunned to be told of the carnage at the conclusion of the game.
Although the game continued, people began to leave the stadium here and there as news filtered in. But most stayed in the stadium and when the game ended, spectators invaded the field, wandering around in shock and looking for their friends on both sides of the field. Ultimately, the stadium was evacuated and as people filed out, both French and German spectators waved flags, linked arms and sang La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, over and over. Clearly one of the most emotional moments to be captured on cell phone cameras and posted to social media, the video was retweeted over and over.
Since many of those coming out of the stadium (and other places affected) could not use transit or streets to get home, social media helped fill the void. The hashtag #PorteOuverte (open door) was first used by a French journalist, Sylvain Lapois, to invite those with no place to go to come and stay in a safe place. Everyone from homes to schools to churches to mosques and temples picked it up. Two hours later, there were more than 6,900 tweets per minute with #PorteOuverte and variations of it. Within 10 hours, there were about 1 million tweets. With borders closed to France, travelers couldn’t get home. In the U.S., by Saturday afternoon, 26,000 tweets had used #strandedinUS, a hashtag for Americans offering their homes to stranded French travelers. CNN even reported taxis turning off their meters to help people get home free of charge.
And on Tuesday, while the rest of the world was still trying to find its footing, the sports world showed it was undaunted. A France/England friendly, scheduled for London’s Wembley Stadium, went on as anticipated.
USA Today noted, “The decision was taken, swiftly, decisively and with a broader focus in mind, to play on through the pain and participate in Tuesday’s match, to refuse to give in to those who would disrupt life and spread fear. In the aftermath of the horrific terror attack on Paris it would have been the logical step to cancel the game. Such a choice was open to France’s players and their federation, a choice they opted to forsake.”
In the meantime, sports teams around the world reached out with messages of support. The link at the bottom of this story leads to photos of everything from the NBA to college football to professional golf to the NHL to even the U.S. Naval Academy’s color guard, who chose to fly a French Flag. Oh, and NASCAR too. Yes, NASCAR. Some messages were hand-penned on hats or shirts, some included the anthem and some simply asked people to stand in silence but all sent one message: we’re with you, France. We’re all one.
Athletes (and everyone else) lined up to give blood. People donated to their local Red Cross, hoping to help. And in Wembley, well ahead of the match, the French flag’s colors of red, white and blue were lit on the stadium’s iconic arch and a symbolic silence was planned to commemorate those who were lost as Paris came under fire.
And while friendly matches like the one at Wembley, are generally considered throw-aways, USA Today noted this one has a more important meaning: “If nothing else, if this is a friendly that truly espouses friendship, it won’t have been pointless at all.”