Last November 28th the LaMia flight 2933 crashed in Colombia killing 71 of the 77 people on board. Many of those victims (19) were players of the Brazilian club Associação Chapecoense de Futebol which headed towards Medellin to play the first leg of the final of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana against the Colombian team Atlético Nacional.
Shortly after the crash Atlético Nacional expressed their wish that the South American football association, CONMEBOL, declared the club Chapecoense as winner of the competition. That was a very honorable request, fully deserving the “premio del Centenario Conmebol al Fair Play” (Conmebol Centenary prize for Fair Play) as announced in a press release of Conmebol on December 5th.
In that same press release, Conmebol announced that they were declaring Chapecoense as winners of the Copa Sudamericana as had been requested.
A few days before I had written a series of tweets expressing my opinion on the subject, which is: I think that decision is a mistake, it is the wrong homage to pay to Chapecoense. But then I am not the one deciding on the matter.
Manchester United. Munich disaster.
The example I used support my view is that of Manchester United, which suffered a similar tragedy in 1958 in Munich, when it was coming from Belgrade from having qualified to the semifinals of the 3rd edition of the European Cup. That accident took place in February 1958 and it cost the lives of 8 players (one of them at the hospital days later due to the injuries suffered in the crash) and many members of the staff. The other half of the team onboard (9 players plus staff) survived the crash (23 fatal victims out of 44 onboard).
The crash caught Manchester in the middle of the season and they managed to rebuild the club with the youth team plus some players signed at the last months of the competition. Manchester had won the First Division in 1957 and in 1958 they were trying to win the 3rd consecutive title. At the time of the accident they were qualified second to Wolverhampton, 6 points behind with 14 games to go. After the crash the only won 1 match, finishing 9th in a league of 22.
Three months after the accident they played the FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers, which they lost 2-0. A few days later they played the semi finals of the European Cup against Milan. They won the first leg but were defeated after losing 4-0 in San Siro.
UEFA invited the club Manchester United to play the following edition of the European Cup. A similar recognition to that of Conmebol, though of a lesser degree (1). The English Football Association, the FA, however, denied Manchester United to accept that invitation on the basis that they had not qualified for the competition. It is in this line of thought that my opinion on the subject goes. On the one hand we have the recognition, the homage, tribute and compassion for the victims, on the other is the sport itself, the competition and the rules of the game.
Life found its way to pay homage to those players years later. A rebuilt Manchester, around the figures of Bobby Charlton and Mutt Busby (both survivors of the accident) would go to win the European Cup in 1968, ten years after the crash.
Il Grande Torino.
Unfortunately we have yet another similar case in that of the Torino of the 40s. That club was known as the Grande Torino due to the superb game they played and the successes they collected. They won the league in the ’43, ’46, ’47 and ’48. In that last season they won the league reaching 65 points with a lead of 16 over the second, with goal difference of plus 92 (125 goals scored in 40 games).
Before the crash, on May 4th 1949, Torino led the league with a difference of 4 points over the second, Internazionale, against whom they had just played for a 0-0 in Milan. They were on the way of winning its 4th consecutive title. All those 31 aboard the aircraft which crashed against the Basilica of Superga died.
A couple of days after the crash, Torino were declared champions of the 1948-49 league, with still 4 games to go. The league did not stop. The last 4 games were played, with Torino putting up the reserve team. At the end they had a lead of 5 points over the second, Internazionale. I haven’t found the chronology of those last 4 games of Torino and Inter, but I guess that once the league result had already been decided, those matches may have not been truly competitive.
In all these three cases, the federation organizing the championship, Conmebol, UEFA and the Italian Federation, had a recognition action in the sense of interfering in the competition, in two cases deciding the champion of the competition (2).
Only the English FA decided against the accepting of one such decision in the sense of preserving results has having occurred in the fields.
(1) The accident of the Chapecoense took place just prior to the final. The accident of Manchester United after the semifinal, with three other teams in the competition and two months until the next match was to be played.
(2) In the case of Conmebol, they could have declared winners Atletico Nacional but invite Chapecoense to play next year edition of the competition, as did UEFA with Manchester United.