For two years in a row, I have found myself in the South of France for Bastille Day. That was yesterday. Today was the FIFA football final match between Croatia and France and my reaction to the event — took me by surprise.
Let me begin by admitting that I know zero about soccer aka football. Sports are not my forte. Only in recent years did I actually begin to understand why sport is such an important global entity. Up until now I have only viewed it as a money-mad enterprise duping the masses into forking over their hard earned incomes for a few moments of escape from their otherwise stressful lives.
In many ways, sport is similar to classical music. Absurd comparison? My theory is that when people become excited about tennis, golf, football or baseball…it is usually because they themselves have played that sport in their younger years and can identify with the effort involved. I suspect that every male watching a football game imagines himself scoring the goals. In similar fashion, I believe that those who appreciate classical music the most are those who were taught to play an instrument at a young age and hence understand just how hard it is to create such beauty and harmony and synchronicity. Those of us never taught to read music and perform it, have been deprived the ultimate appreciation of the effort. In that respect, music and sport are not dissimilar. Of course the mates of those who have these interests can be nurtured to appreciate them as well… but for them it is never quite as rich an experience as it is for the afficianado.
Watching the buildup to the FIFA final, with France winning each of its games has been fascinating. The citizens of France were quite simply intoxicated with the joy of it all. It was in stark contrast to the recent years of fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attacks at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices, at the Kosher supermarkets and on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice two years ago, which took the lives of more than 80 innocents and left hundreds wounded, with PTSD and damaged beyond repair. This nation which has been fighting back to retain its identity and its pride, was given the gift of a terrific football team and that afforded them the boost that they truly needed.
Yesterday, Bastille Day, was somber. Instead of fireworks on the beach, there were marches and tributes to those killed in terrorist acts. The free evening concert in the center of Nice ended not with flashing fireworks and explosions, but with hundreds of gentle balloons floating heaven-bound with tiny lights inside of them. One had the feeling of souls going towards the heavens. It was beautiful and appropriate.
Today’s football match finale was by contrast a joyous occasion. Hordes of French men, women and children draped themselves in the red,white and blue French tri-colour flag, painted the flag on their cheeks, laughed, screamed and watched the game in every café, bar and on public video screens. The streets were devoid of vehicles. Everyone was walking through the streets, even before the match, with smiles on their faces. It was a great day to be French and to be united under their flag in the joy of the game.
A couple of days ago however, there were thousands of people watching a qualifying match in the Cours Salaya restaurants and bars in Nice’s Old Town. When France won that game, someone set off a firecracker. The crowds thought it was a gun….another terror attack…and they panicked in an effort to flee the congested area. Dozens were hurt in the stampede. This was a clear indication of how sensitive everyone is two years later- aware of the potential for another terror attack.
In the meantime the French police massively improved their security for the two days of events. They made no exceptions for anyone who insisting on special treatment. The area showing Bastille night’s free philharmonic concert on a massive screen in Place Massena, was ordoned off for many blocks with walls and barriers. No vehicles or assault was going to get through again. Those walls stayed in position for today’s FIFA final match as thousands again congregated to watch it on the city’s big viewing screens.
It was such a pleasure to watch the joy of a nation united once again. Sport was the vehicle to bond one and all as brothers and sisters …to bring smiles to the faces of those who were recently grieving.
It was also a delight to see citizens draping themselves in their nation’s flag, and to see that terrorism had not accomplished its goal.
It became clear as I considered what I was witnessing –the contrast against the gloom of the past two years in Nice. The Islamic fundamentalist terrorists have got it terribly wrong. Unbeknownst to them, their terror acts did not accomplish their objective. While they caused pain to the individuals directly damaged or bereaved, and immediate horror to the society being attacked, in the long term their acts actually unify those they intend to destroy. Nothing makes a people stronger than an assault on their way of life, their values, and their culture. Hit us hard and we bleed, but in the long term we heal and become stronger in defense of our own way of life. This is the bottom line . Terrorism is a failure. Fear does not conquer or make others follow . It makes the society it infests reject their ideology in totality. The joy of sport trumps the terror of hate.