A Tragic Disaster That May Have Lasting Consequences. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38152105


Monday’s tragic air crash, which killed 71 of 77 passengers, has grabbed the world’s attention. Since football is the global game, it has allowed us all—as football fans—to have a rare moment of “collective effervescence”, a sociological concept defined by Emile Durkheim as an event that can bring people together by unifying a group. In this case, the group is—quite literally—global society. The outpouring of support from all walks of society, regardless of nationality, has been refreshing to see in a world that is becoming more and more fragmented. But some speculations as to the cause of the crash are worrisome, as they reveal a systemic failure where the desire to make a profit was put above the duty to preserve human life.

The introduction to Routledge’s Soccer and Disaster, a book I have used in my own research, explains this kind of mourning:

The links between sport, social identity and community have been a central focus of much sport sociology and history, and these links have often been thrown into sharp focus at the time of air crashes and other incidents that have resulted in the untimely deaths of football players and managers. The deep, emotional connections that football supporters have with ‘their’ teams ensure that when tragedies befall team players and other club representatives, fans often feel an acute sense of shared loss. In the wake of many of the air crashes that have blighted football, supporters and wider communities have gone into deep mourning, expressing their connection to those that have died (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 3).

Perhaps the only positive to result from this unfortunate disaster is that the outpouring of support—for a South American air disaster—has come from all over the football world, showing that a tragedy in the global South is recognized in the global North; the economic and cultural lines that divide the world have been transcended by this horrific accident. Again, Routledge’s Soccer and Disaster notes how this has not always been the case:

Images of some crowd disasters, such as Hillsborough (1989) where 96 Liverpool fans died, were broadcast around the globe and have become lodged in the game’s public history; yet others that took place outside the western world, like the Lima tragedy in 1964 or the disaster in Buenos Aires four years later, are remembered far less widely beyond those immediately affected (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 2).

Below, we see how truly international the response has been, encompassing both the local and the global. Brazil’s famous Corinthians Tweeted their condolences while also encouraging “all clubs [to] unite and pray for people’s lives”:


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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html


As Chapecoense’s fans prayed in the churches of their home town, their rivals in Colombia also sent messages of condolence. Atletico Nacional called for Chapecoense to be named champions of the Copa Sudamericana, the cup they had been traveling to play for, while fellow Colombian side Millonarios also sent a message:



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Throughout South America similar feelings poured in. Both the Argentine FA and Mexican FA sent similar messages while flags flew at half mast outside the South American Football Confederation’s headquarters in Paraguay:


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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/29/football/chapecoense-forca-chape-neymar-social-media/index.html

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In Europe too, the support has been steady. In England Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney all sent messages. Liverpool fans, perhaps due to their own experience with collective trauma, commemorated the Chapecoense disaster during a match:


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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/chapecoense-tributes-pour-football-world-161129091628532.html


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38151694


In Spain, Real Madrid held a collective minute of silence ahead of a training session while Barcelona and Sevilla both sent condolences as well. Individually, former Sevilla coach Unai Emery and Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas also Tweeted their support:



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Elsewhere in Europe there was support from Portugal’s Benfica (who played the last match with Italy’s FC Torino before the Superga disaster in 1949), from top German sides Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and Bayer Leverkusen, and Turkish side Galatasaray.


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Even the new Wembley Stadium, the epitome of football’s extreme capitalism and erasure of the past, lit the arch in Chapecoense’s colors. So what does this kind of unprecedented international support for Chapecoense mean? To me it shows the transnational force that football really is, an opportunity to create some sort of meaningful connection in an increasingly fragmented world that has continually pressured local and national voices into silence.


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But there is also another side that shows the effect of this transnational extreme capitalism. After news broke that the plane may have run out of fuel, fans were understandably angry. Part of the reason is that like any other part of culture, sports is not separate from the political; as the Guardian reports:

The tragedy came at the end of what has been a horrendous year for Brazil, as bad news and political upheaval followed tragedy. An epidemic of the Zika virus has been blamed for an outbreak of the birth defect microcephaly, but nobody understands why it is concentrated in Brazil’s poorer north-east. Economists are struggling to understand why South America’s biggest economy refuses to grow out of its worst recession in a century.

Public life has been darkened by a sprawling bribery and kickbacks scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras that has led to the jailing of dozens of politicians, executives and intermediaries. The scandal helped drive the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in August – though she was never accused of graft – and allegations now threaten her successor and former vice-president, Michel Temer.

The Chapecoense air disaster might become an introspective event for Brazilian society, much like the 1987 Alianza Lima disaster was for Peru (also see Panfichi and Vich in Soccer and Disaster). One very readable story on the Economist’s blog gives us a few clues as to why this disaster connects capitalism, sports, and society. Focusing on reports that the plane ran out of fuel, the Economist focuses on why? The plane was scheduled to stop in northern Bolivia for fuel but never did, and “According to O Globo, a Brazilian news outlet, the first leg of the journey from São Paulo to Santa Cruz de la Sierra was delayed by around one hour. That meant that the refuelling stop in Cobija was not possible, as the airport there shuts down at night. So, the pilot opted to fly directly from Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Medellín”.

The Economist further explains that the range of the plane was less than the distance between the airports of São Paulo and Medellín;

The range of the plane model, a British AVRO RJ-85 jet, is 2,965km with a full tank of fuel, according to JACDEC, an air-safety website. That is less than the distance between the two airports. Global civil-aviation regulations state that any plane flying internationally must carry enough fuel to make it to an alternate airport, and enough to fly for 30 minutes after that. And yet somehow, the plane was on course to arrive safely. Mr Quiroga had requested for priority to land with air-traffic control, but he was rebuffed: another plane had a fuel leak and needed to land first. Only after that, when the jet had already begun to descend, did he declare an emergency.

It is not clear how or why the last-minute change in flight plan was approved. According to El Deber, a Bolivian newspaper, airport officials in Santa Cruz de la Sierra raised several questions about it. Mr Quiroga reportedly made various verbal guarantees that the plane had enough fuel for the trip.

This is macabre news indeed, and the Economist further uncovers things I have not seen in the main-stream (state) media:

Other considerations may have been on the pilot’s mind. Mr Quiroga was a co-owner of Lamia airlines. As such he had a unique set of incentives in this situation. Postponing a chartered flight in a time-sensitive industry is not good for business. Once in the air, telling officials that the plane is running out of fuel is less than desirable: the penalty for any firm being caught flouting regulations is huge. It is too early to say whether such factors played a part in his decision-making.

It is also unclear why a top-tier football team was flying to a major sporting event with an airline like Lamia in the first place. The firm was founded in 2009 in Mérida, a small city in western Venezuela. Last year Lamia Bolivia, a separate business entity, was set up. The airline claims to specialise in chartered flights, particularly for football teams. The only functioning plane it has ever owned is the 17-year-old jet that crashed into the muddy Colombian mountainside.

The players of Chapecoense were not the only footballers to fly with Lamia. Few airlines provide chartered flights in Latin America, and none does it cheaper. “A flight that another company charges you $100,000 for, Lamia offered for $60,000,” an industry insider told La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. Among Lamia’s customers were Atletico Nacional, Chapecoense’s would-be opponents in Medellín, and Argentina’s national football team. The squad’s luminaries, including Lionel Messi, perhaps the greatest player of all time, boarded the doomed Lamia plane just two weeks before the crash, flying from Buenos Aires to Belo Horizonte for a World Cup qualifier.

The influence of extreme capitalism—through industrial football, in this case—is not hard to see and it is tragic given the importance of the Chapecoense team to its community. After all, football should be about the community and not money. The pilot did not want to hurt the business he owned—since the bottom line was more important than human life—and therefore chose not to report the gravity of the situation. This—if true—is just personal greed. As for the Chapecoense team choosing to fly with Lamia? This, again, can be chalked up to economics. A savings of $40,000, as reported above, is significant for a team that has to make money in the world of industrial football. Do I think that cutting corners on air travel—to save money for the club at the expense of human life—is acceptable? Of course not, it is reprehensible! But do I understand how it could happen? Unfortunately, in the era of industrial football (and extreme capitalism), where money is one of the few guiding “principles” humanity has left, then I do understand why a team can make such a choice resulting in this kind of heinous tragedy.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and even leads me to believe that Ronaldinho’s offer to play for the club is just a publicity stunt to get him back into football. I hope he proves me wrong, but in the era of industrial football nothing will surprise me. I hope that this collective effervescence can spawn a new resistance to industrial football, but given the results of Hillsborough—which only increased the rationalization of stadiums in the name of “safety” that served to increase the accumulation of capital, I am not so sure. As Darby, Johnes, and Mellor explain:

It took the 1989 disaster at Hillsborough for the country’s [England’s] top stadia to be totally overhauled. The move to all-seater grounds in the English game’s top two divisions may have been underpinned as much by the desire to eradicate hooliganism as it was to ensure the safety of fans but it had a radical impact on not only the game’s built environment but also the whole culture of fandom. Ticket prices escalated and leading stadia became more sanitized, maybe even quieter (Darby, Johnes, and Mellor, 2005: 5).

I hope Brazilian and world football take a lesson from this tragic event and put a stop to the trend where money is coming to be valued over human lives. I stand in solidarity with the Chapecoense club and mourn this (seemingly) preventable disaster.

Rest In Peace.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-38152105