Charlie Hebdo solidarity transcends sporting divides

Amidst the tragedy, sport's ability to foster public unity was on vivid display

The dust is finally beginning to settle here in France following the shocking events which occurred in Paris at the start of January. The citizens have dispersed from the streets, the placards and billboards have been removed and the fierce debates are slowly subsiding. Yet, there remains a perceptible sombreness gripping the country; a feeling which will take months to disappear.

There are reminders everywhere. The once ubiquitous black posters can still be seen stuck to shop windows, on bins, and on car windshields. The air of suspicion has not vanished either, with bags being routinely searched on the way into supermarkets and shopping centres. And, of course, in almost any house you visit, the now famous Charlie Hebdo edition printed in the aftermath of the massacre can be found lying on coffee-tables, on kitchen worktops and pinned up on noticeboards.

Attending the Toulouse solidarity march in the weekend following the shootings, there was a very visible display of conflicting philosophies plastered onto homemade signs brandished fervently above the crowd. Some conveyed religious messages, others patriotic ones and yet more, in typical French style, called out for revolution.

The attack sparked an outpouring of passion, a cavalcade of emotions which was not all orientated in the same direction. Not too long after the virtual explosion of ‘Je suis Charlie’ came the counter hashtag ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’. This was often not a direct contradiction of the sentiments expressed in what became known as the ‘Je suis Charlie’ campaign – there remained shared feelings of grief at the heinous attack on their nation – but a wish to nuance their feelings regarding the Charlie Hebdo publication itself, and also the correct response to the killings.

The reaction in sport to the events in France may just be a minor headline in a much bigger political and social picture. However, as a sports fan, it is a reaction which caught my eye. Images from sporting events up and down France conveyed a sense of unity far stronger than could be observed on the streets. Minutes of silence were dutifully observed, black posters were held aloft and participants in all variety of sporting professions paid tribute to their fallen compatriots.

And, once the periods of silence had been observed, the posters were set down in favour of flags and scarves as the French people roared for their respective teams with all their usual passion and fervour. The horror of the week’s events could be, if not completely forgotten, momentarily put to one side.

The press always appears keen to highlight the divisive nature of sport; the spats, the fights and the arguments are all too often the primary focus of the back pages. However, the potential for sport to act as a unifier was made clear in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It signifies a reminder of the weekly routine which perhaps helps people to make sense of a seemingly senseless situation.


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