Divided by flags, United by Christian Eriksen - Humanity triumphs in Euro 2020
The Denmark vs Finland clash was an example of flaming hope as countless hands joined in muted prayer for Christian Eriksen to recover, proving the triumph of humanity.
There aren't too many times in life when one finds themselves at a loss for words - lips quivering, hands trembling, mind unable to register the unfolding of events. Least of all, a packed football stadium watching an intense all-Nordic clash could possibly be subject to the same. Yet, the evening of 12th June 2021 was a nervous witness - as Denmark took on Finland on Day 2 of the Group B match at Euro 2020, a much-awaited tournament for countless football fans across the world.
With six minutes shy of reaching the half-time mark, Denmark's star midfielder Christian Eriksen, just 29 years of age, collapsed near the touchline. Dashing to collect a throw-in, Eriksen fell face-first onto the field - causing a deafening silence to rise in the fan-filled Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.
Immediately sensing that this wasn't a normal football injury fall as Eriksen, a former Tottenham Hotspur great, collapsed without a tackle, solitary on the side of the field, match referee Anthony Taylor rushed to aid. By then, the Parken Stadium was gripped by silence - home fans stood mute, decked up in red-and-white colours of the Danish flag while Eriksen's teammates rushed over to form a human shield.
The power of silence, the prayers of humanity
What followed was an agonizing 15 minutes that will be etched in the memory forever - a bittersweet reminder of how humanity really triumphs over everything. The very idea of sports is constructed on the basis of having an opposition and its various arenas assume a Colosseum-like omniscient structure where players, gladiator-like, are conditioned to outlast the others. Yet, humanity does seep in, it throws away these age-old constructs, especially in shocking moments like this, it all blurs.
Just as Denmark's Christian Eriksen collapsed on the ground, falling in media res, Finland supporters did not hesitate a second before throwing their country's flag to cover Eriksen while the medical team attended to him. The Danish players stood around Eriksen whilst all of this happened, holding up the Finnish flag around him - creating a stirring memory that will be indelibly inscribed in the history of sports.
The majority of the crowd in the stands stood fixated, some clasped onto fellow fans, wordless tears streaming down their faces, watching in shock as the events unfolded. Commentators, match presenters, with their usual flair of words, visibly struggled, choking a little, as words escaped them too.
Soon after, the silence was broken with the crowd beginning to chant Eriksen's name. While the Finnish supporters voiced - 'Christian', the Danes added to the chorus with 'Eriksen', even after the Inter Milan midfielder got carried off-field and the match got suspended due to a medical emergency. It's a wonder how ironically religious connotations also seamlessly seeped in here. Chanting, which is essentially associated with various religions and is believed to have the meditative power to induce calmness in the face of calamity, resounded in the atmosphere of the Parken Stadium.
Moments after Christian Eriksen was stabilised and the match was re-started after requests from both teams, Finland's Joel Pohjanpalo scored a lone goal to win the game in front of cheerless supporters, still reeling in shocked silence. In a parallel match featuring Belgium against Russia in Euro 2020, Eriksen's Inter Milan teammate Romelu Lukaku rushed to the camera and shouted, "Chris, I love you!" after scoring a goal for Belgium.
The victory of humanity in sports
The past year and a half has been dictated by an ongoing pandemic and our efforts to re-establish a known order is perpetually being dragged into a vortex of chaos. The imagery is stark but simple - like Jenga blocks trying to balance itself, only to slip, only to topple. At a time when we have grown immune to processing grief - in the sense, we no longer can, moments like this find a way to tear us apart again. However, yesterday's display of moving sportsmanship might be the greatest act of sportsmanship in recent history but it isn't the only one.
Rio Olympics 2016: Abbey D'Agostino of USA paused to help New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin
Competing in the 5000 metre race at the Rio Olympics, two runners - Abbey D'Agostino (USA) and Nikki Hamblin (NZ) got entangled and fell to the ground. Instead of immediately getting up and finishing the race, Abbey encouraged the injured Hamblin to get up. Writhing in pain, both D'Agostino and Hamblin scrambled to complete the race before Hamblin realized D'Agostino's injury was far more serious. Embracing at the finish line and exhibiting true Olympic spirit, both women showed what true sportsmanship is, even at such a great grand stage of the Games.
Santander Triathlon 2020, Barcelona: Spain's Diego Mentrida pauses to allow Britain's James Teagle to reach the finish line after his rival took a wrong turn
While this may be quite unimaginable to believe that somebody would give up their chance of winning a bronze medal, this is where true sportsmanship spirit lies. In the final stretch of the triathlon Britain's James Teagle, who was leading ahead of Spain's Diego Mentrida, took a wrong turn. Mentrida, who was within an earshot of crossing over the finish line decided to stop just before it just so that Teagle, the ethically deserving winner, could make it past him.
2019 World Athletic Championships: Runner Braima Suncar Dabo stopped to help a fatigued Jonathan Busby to the finish line
Hailing from Guinea-Bissau, runner Braima Suncar Dabo decided to put a halt on his race at the World Athletic Championships to help his fellow competitor, an exhausted Jonathan Busby, in the 5000 meter race. Fatigued by the intensity of the run, Aruba's Busby collapsed onto the field and looked like he would be unable to reach the finish line. It was at this instance that Dabo won the hearts of countless sports fans by helping Busby complete the race, who then had to be carried out in a wheelchair post the match.
While these are tales that are highly inspiring, what's sad is that we are noticing these moments so starkly now - these simple, humane acts have become that rare. Of late, humanity has taken a morbid turn - we do not know what to expect, we no longer know where to put our faith, where to stand our ground without it being sinking sand. However, the Denmark vs Finland match was an example of flaming hope - countless hands joined in prayer, not just football fans, people from all over the world were united in stunned silence, feverishly praying for Eriksen to recover, to stabilize. In that moment, humanity also breathed a sigh of relief as faith was once again restored, hope once again reignited.