Can Chapecoense recover after tragedy?


Despite a lack of superstar power, Chapecoense, a Brazilian soccer team from Chapeco, had reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana, the second-biggest international club competition in South America.

Chapecoense was formed in the 1970s and played in the country’s less-competitive fourth tier as recently as 2007, partially making the club’s run to the Copa Sudamericana final a surprise. Atletico Nacional now is urging South America’s governing body, CONMEBOL, to award Chapecoense the title.

With most of the members of its roster lost in the crash, what will happen to the Chapecoense club? There is help potentially on the way.

According to Globo, 11 clubs have asked the Brazilian football federation to keep Chapecoense in Serie A and be exempt from relegation for three seasons. The teams also have offered to loan players from their teams.

The Chapecoense franchise and its fans will likely bear the emotional scars of Monday’s crash for a long time. As to whether Chapecoense will ever recover fully on the field, a look back at history shows that it is possible.

Here are six examples of sports teams that returned to a high competitive level after a tragic plane crash.

1949: Torino soccer team

Site of the plane crash of the Torino Football Club in 1949.

A plane carrying the Torino soccer club, returning from a friendly game in Lisbon, Portugal, crashed near Turin, Italy, on May 4, 1949.

In all, 31 people died, 18 of whom were players. According to Torino’s website, a half million people attended the funeral.

“The entire city of Turin came together around the team, the true symbol of an era,” the site stated.

Torino continued to field a team, mostly using youth players. At the end of the 1958-59 season, the team finished in 17th in the league and was relegated to Serie B, though that stay in Italy’s second tier was short-lived, lasting one season.

Eventually, it resumed its place in Serie A, winning the title in the 1975-76 season.

1958: Manchester United

Wreckage of a British European Airways plane after it crashed in 1958 near Munich, Germany, while carrying the Manchester United championship soccer team.

Eight soccer players lost their lives on February 6, 1958, when Flight 609 ZU crashed on its third attempt to take off after re-fueling in Germany. The team’s league title hopes were dashed and they won just one league game after the crash in Munich.

But the club’s troubles didn’t last long. United claimed the league title again in 1965 and 1967, with Matt Busby’s team also winning the European Cup in 1968. Including the years before and after the crash, United has a record 20 English league titles.

1961: US Figure Skating team

The scene of the crash of Sabena Flight 548. The Boeing 707 aircraft crashed en route to Brussels, Belgium, from New York City, killing 72 people -- including the entire United States Figure Skating team.

On Valentine’s Day in 1961, a plane carrying the US World Figure Skating Team, officials, coaches, family members and friends crashed a few miles from the airport in Brussels, Belgium. No one survived — including all 18 members of the team.

Later that month, a memorial fund was created for the athletes who died in the crash. According to the US Figure Skating website, the fund “continues to provide qualified US Figure Skating skaters who are in need of financial aid with monetary assistance to pursue their goals both inside and outside the competitive arena.”

The US returned to prominence at the Grenoble Winter Olympics in 1968, when Peggy Fleming won gold in the women’s event and Tim Wood took silver in the men’s program.

1970: Marshall football team

Rescue workers search the wreckage of a plane crash in Huntington, West Virginia. The plane carried the Marshall University football team and all passengers were killed.

On November 14, 1970, a flight carrying the Marshall University football team, coaching staff and fans crashed on a hillside, exploding and killing all 75 on board. Of those, 38 were football players.

Because the program was decimated, the NCAA gave Marshall permission to play incoming freshmen on the varsity team in 1971. The Thundering Herd didn’t win much, but they did prevail in their first home game after the crash, defeating Xavier on the final play, 15-13.

Marshall won two NCAA Division I-AA titles in the 1990s and moved to Division I-A (now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision), the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, in 1997.

1977: University of Evansville men’s basketball team

Workers watch as a large crane swings the tail section of a wrecked DC-3 onto a flatbed car at Dress Regional Airport in Evansville, Indiana, on December 16, 1977.

According to the Evansville athletics website, “The history of University of Evansville athletics begins with basketball.” But on December 13, 1977, a plane carrying the men’s team — heading to a game at Middle Tennessee — crashed shortly after takeoff. Everyone on board was killed.

Despite the tragedy, the basketball program was brought back the following year, thanks to what Evansville called “tremendous community support.”

The Purple Aces have since made five trips to the NCAA tournament, the last appearance coming in 1999.

1993: Zambian national soccer team

This 1993 photo shows the emblem of the national Zambian football team and some belongings of players found by divers at sea after a plane carrying the team crashed shortly after takeoff from Libreville. All 30 people aboard were killed.

In 1993, 18 members of the Zambia national team died in a plane crash on the way to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal. The accident killed all 30 people on board.

In 2012, Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations, with coach Herve Renard dedicating the country’s first title to former player Kalusha Bwalya, who escaped the 1993 crash. Bwalya survived because he had traveled separately to Dakar from his base in Europe, where he played for Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

“We wanted to honor the dead players and that strengthened us,” Renard was quoted as saying on the Confederation of Africa’s official website.

“Our first game was against Senegal and the team was on its way to Senegal for a match when the plane crashed. The plane crashed in Gabon and we won the final in Gabon. It is a sign of destiny.”

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