Sensitivity wins as the big ball stops rolling

Confronted by horror sport needs to remember its role as frivolity and entertainment unlike the 1972 Olympics in Munich

The last time America and so much of the world was devastated, when the cornerstones of life seemed to have been torn away, they played a football game at Goodison Park before the shock waves had even begun to ebb.

The last time America and so much of the world was devastated, when the cornerstones of life seemed to have been torn away, they played a football game at Goodison Park before the shock waves had even begun to ebb.

It was less than 24 hours after the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, a First Division game against forgotten opposition on a day of Merseyside cold that more than ever before or since seemed to go straight into the bones. There is only one memory of that ill-conceived afternoon of sport and it had nothing to do with the action. It is of an incident which came in the middle of a minute's silence for the fallen President. The deep hush was broken by a cry of "Long Live Kruschev''. The author of the shout had to be rescued by the police.

Last night Everton played Crystal Palace in a Worthington Cup tie and the question had to concern what, in all the circumstances, could rescue at this time even a hint of relevance for such a contest.

Certainly Uefa, European football's ruling body, was right to move quickly to postpone what on a different occasion would have been last night's glittering line-up of Champions' League ties, and also to stress that it was a decision based not on security fears but out of respect for the uncounted dead.

Sport, as we know well enough, is a workable metaphor for the best and the worst of life itself, and sometimes gloriously so, but in these days of the almighty hype, and the kind of exaggerated reaction which greeted England's recent triumph over Germany in Munich, it is perhaps more than ever necessary to draw a line.

Uefa did it swiftly and correctly yesterday. Tuesday's games went on when the world was still recoiling in shock and those at Anfield for Liverpool's 1-1 draw with the Portuguese champions Boavista spoke of an almost surreal atmosphere of detachment from the realities of a day which indeed may have changed the world. The low attendance was variously attributed to the uncelebrated status of Liverpool's opponents, to parochialism and the extra demands the match made on the pockets of Merseysiders. But it may also be true that some felt that on this day so besieged by images of destruction and tragedy that Bill Shankly's famous declaration that football was more important than life and death rang as emptily as a discarded lager can.

In the overturning of so many American certainties it is inevitable that doubts should be cast against the viability of the Ryder Cup golf match between America and Europe which is due to start at The Belfry in two weeks' time. You have to wonder if the pain and the dismay will have ebbed sufficiently to permit what, in recent years, has too often been an unfortunate expression of partisanship, especially on the American part. Indeed the emotional equilibrium of a brilliant but often fraught event will surely come under immense pressure, with the haunting possibility of a reminder of the unpleasant atmosphere that came to Kiawah Island in South Carolina in the wake of the Gulf War. Then, leading American players enthusiastically evoked both the imagery and the vocabulary of Desert Storm. It was tasteless then, it is unimaginable now.

Uefa's decision certainly reflects a degree of sensitivity to the mood of a wider world which was painfully absent in the Munich Olympics of 1972, when the International Olympic Committee chairman, Avery Brundage, a reclusive American plutocrat, insisted that the Games should proceed despite the slaughter of Israeli athletes and coaches by the Palestinian splinter group Black September. Brundage said the Games could not be stopped, they were beyond the pull of politics and even terrorist action. But, of course, they weren't, and when the Games closed, and a host of pretty balloons were sent into the sky, some would never again see sport as more than a self-indulgence to be consigned among the other flippancies of life.

This is not to relegate the power of sport as a powerful and valid agent of the human spirit and, certainly, you would find no lack of advocates of this belief in America. Indeed if you took the games of America away, the world's most pervasive culture would be denuded of some of its most reliable metaphors. The number of times President Bush's role was likened to that of an embattled quarterback as he skipped from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska and then finally Washington on Tuesday is beyond calculation. He was in the position of a man required to throw the Hail Mary pass, the desperate resource of that quarterback required as never before to produce a big play.

When France's leading soldier Marshall Foch saw his first gridiron game in Philadelphia just after the first World War he exclaimed: " Mon dieu, this game has everything – it is like war.'' But of course, it is not, it is a game, a fabrication of the real thing and if any sports lover, American or otherwise, had any illusions about this they were surely wiped away in a New York minute.

The demarcation line of sport and real life can never have been so clearly drawn. For the champion of Wimbledon, Goran Ivanisevic, it is one that was never more blurred than during the agony of war in his native Croatia. As he attempted to win a gold medal for his emerging nation in the 1992 Olympics, he said: "My friends are dying for my country. They have rifles in their hands and I have a tennis racket. But they do tell me I can do good for Croatia, I can put it on the map."

Yesterday Uefa was faced with a rather less complex situation. It decided that respect had to be the most vital factor in its decision. So, in that light it is right that the big ball, at least in the big games, stopped rolling last night. Even at its best, it could have provided no more than a distraction. Uefa guessed rightly it was the wrong time to dwell on anything but reality.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions