Monday 23 September 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you'

'Three of those people were killed during an attack on the Stade de France'
'Three of those people were killed during an attack on the Stade de France'
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Sport feels a bit beside the point this weekend, doesn't it? Analyses of the Ireland-Bosnia game, the Russian doping scandal and so on pale into insignificance when set beside the sheer unmitigated horror and evil of the latest attacks on Paris.

At the time of writing the total of people murdered by ISIS last night stands at 128. It will end up being much greater than that. Three of those people were killed during an attack on the Stade de France where France and Germany were playing a football friendly. During the game the spectators could hear the explosions, which occurred at a gate leading into the ground.

Television footage shows the teams playing while the explosions echo in the background. It is the perfect metaphor for the way sport, along with so much of everyday life, is affected by what happened in Paris. France, after all, is the country where next year's European Football Championships, for which the Republic of Ireland are hoping to qualify, will be held.

Fans from all over Europe will travel to that tournament, some of them from countries which have already been the victims of Islamic terrorism. But the reality is that in the minds of the men who masterminded Friday night's attacks, every single one of those fans will be a legitimate target. Europe itself is something that they hate. It is not just football players and supporters who will regard next year's finals as an opportunity.

Sometimes we talk about sport in an exaggerated fashion, hyperbole driving us to hail those we love as heroes and those we dislike as villains. But really there are no real villains in sport. Drug cheats, players who feign injury, even football hooligans are very minor offenders in a world which contains real evil. We find it hard to deal with the concept of evil these days. It is something that can't be wished away by a hash tag and a pat explanation.

Perhaps that's why an well-known figure in Irish soccer Mick Wallace TD felt the need to disgrace himself by sending a tweet which suggested he thought the most important thing about the Paris attacks was the opportunity it gave him to score some petty political point. Wallace was of course backed up by Clare Daly, the ever reliable Butt-head to Mick's Beavis. He's a disgrace to the League of Ireland, to Irish football and to Irish sport in general. One wonders if, were a group of fans from Wexford were to be massacred next summer in France Mick would be quite so keen to make excuses for the killers rather than express sympathy for the victims.

But Mick Wallace isn't evil either. He's just a fool. The real villains are those who have yet again showed their delight in murdering people going about the most innocent of daily activities. It could have been any of us at that match or concert where nearly a hundred people were wiped out. Innocence provides no defence.

It's customary to say that horrors like this 'put sport into perspective.' But they don't do that so much as reduce it to absolute meaninglessness. France will remain a target. And so will Russia where the 2018 World Cup finals will take place. The 2022 World Cup finals, meanwhile, will be held in Qatar, a financial supporter of Islamic terrorist organisations like ISIS in the past. Make sense of that if you will.

Platitudes about how we can 'beat the terrorists by carrying on with our everyday lives' also seem hollow at moments like this. The terrorists will consider yesterday a victory and the people they murdered will not be carrying on with their lives.

It's often said that sport and politics don't mix. But sport being part of the world cannot be separated from it. As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once said, "You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you." The attack on the Stade de France was an attack on everyone who'll be going to a match today as the attack on the Bataclan theatre was an attack on everyone who'll be going to a gig tonight.

May the dead of Paris rest in peace. Remember them in your prayers.

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