“Pain overwhelms our hearts and invades our thinking in mourning. It has been unfortunate hours in which we have been dismayed by news that we never wanted to hear”.
“The accident of our football brothers, Chapecoense, will mark us for life and will leave an indelible mark on Latin-American and world football. All this has been completely unexpected, that’s why the pain. They were all footballers, technical staff, journalists and crew, people with many dreams, that’s why the tears”.
“After being very worried about the human part we thought about the competitive aspect and we want to publish this statement in which Atletico Nacional ask Conmebol to give the title of Copa Sudamericana be given to the Chapecoense as an honorary award for this great loss, and in posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident that impute our sport. For our part, and forever, Chapecoense are champions of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana.”
With these words Atletico Nacional aptly expressed the collective sense of loss following this week’s tragic events in Medellin. No longer preparing to confront Chapecoense as a rival for South America’s equivalent of the Europa League, they now mourned for them as a beloved member of world football’s large extended family.
Instead of welcoming their rivals to Atanasio Giardo Sports Stadium to contest the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana Final, Atletico fans gathered to mourn them. Some brought flowers, some in tears, they all filed into the stadium for the scheduled kick off time.
Lidia Alzate summed up the mood of the over 100,000 fans of the Columbian side who swarmed the stadium and the surrounding area, when she said “We expected an excellent match. They aren’t as big as Nacional but they were coming to give it their all, so tonight we’re Chapecoense fans.” Lidia and all the other Nacional fans determined to pay their respects to an opponent who would tragically never arrive.
As the Chapecoense players who did not make the fateful flight gathered together at the club’s headquarters, football, the heartbeat of South America, was suspended until further notice. The thrill of the contest gone as the club, and the continent as a whole, came to grips with the disaster. Sport seemingly a meaningless pursuit as club and country grieve the loss of 75 lost souls.
A small club who rose from the depths of the lower divisions to the top flight in recent seasons, Chapecoense’s Copa Sudamericana charge this season had been celebrated as a Cinderella story by many. Despite being ravaged mind, body and soul by the tragedy, to honour the memory of those they’ve lost, the devastated club has vowed to rise again. To this end their fellow top-flight clubs have lobbied Brazilian football to preclude them from relegation for 3 years and have offered to loan players for free as they rebuild.
If only football was all they had to concern themselves with. With the wounds of Medellin still raw and deep, it must be the furthest thing from their minds. In time, football’s magic will again enthral those now lost in despair, but the recovery will be long and hard. Instead their focus is on farewelling those lost forever in the quest for the 2016 Copa Sudamericana.