Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Funny old game, life

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FOLLOWING the sudden collapse of Denmark’s Christian Eriksen on the field of play on Saturday evening, and having continued to show his treatment on the pitch for 15 minutes or more, the BBC at last returned its viewers to the studio commentators, who were understandably shaken.

They agreed that, if there was one thing the shocking event had revealed, it is the unimportance of football. After all, we were reminded, it’s just a game.

This neatly summarises the false logic from which we have all suffered over the last 15 months or so, and which continues to be applied, it appears ad infinitum.

Few, if any, in the Copenhagen stadium on Saturday would have wished a substitution to have been made for Eriksen and the match to have continued. Not only would that have asked too much of the players, justifiably poleaxed by what had happened; it would have lacked due respect.

But are we to conclude that what Eriksen’s trouble showed up is the unimportance of football? Are we to follow the suspension of the fixture in acknowledgement of the fallen player with assertions of the triviality of a game whose grassroots activities do so much for the life of local communities across the world? Are we to join with those who are lambasting UEFA for its plans to replay the tie and continue with the competition as planned? Is the unfortunate collapse of someone on the pitch to be responded to by holding football in contempt?

This logic is flawed and hugely undermining. And it is the logic of Covid.

The only appropriate acknowledgement of the circulation of a respiratory virus, which has accompanied the deaths of people almost exclusively in their eighties and nineties, is by now confirmed as the more or less total cessation of the ways in which we spend our lives: the weddings, the funerals, the parties, the workplaces, the sports . . . the list is endless.

It seems that no amount of evidence for the fact that cessation of life has negligible impact on virus spread, or on hospitalisation or death from respiratory disease, can gainsay the overwhelming consensus: that any threat to life (real or imagined) reveals all of the ways in which we live to be unimportant, trivial, suspendable, just a game.

If we are to reverse this disastrous logic – in which due respect for human mortality can express itself only in the calling-off of life – we must reactivate the kind of respect that is also defiance, the kind of respect that we accord to any serious opponent to whom we square up with all of our wits and our might. We must begin again to show respect for death, not by accepting the suspension of life but by reactivating the urgency of living.

It used to be said of people, and with spirited pride, that they ‘died with their boots on’ – that they had gone forth to meet death, that they had defied death to the last, that they had squared up to death with all of the force of life.

Now, to die with your boots on is deemed an outrage; to be caught out in the midst of life is judged as careless. So much so that we are sentenced to tiptoeing through life with our boots off just in case we die, grossly, with them on.

In response to the collapse of Eriksen, and after the appropriate pause to acknowledge his situation – which will, in the end, be all our situation – we should return to football as to all of life with a renewed gusto, with a refreshed appreciation for the air in our lungs and the magic in our feet, with a glorious rejoicing in the life that remains to us and a defiant respect for its finite character.

The alternative is what we continue to endure through this, our second Covid year: an indefinite suspension of living out of respect for the fact that we die. 

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Dr Sinead Murphy
Dr Sinead Murphy is a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University.

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