Paris attacks: ‘People are deeply saddened, very angry but life goes on. That’s the nature of life’

Four Irish sports people who ply their trade in France give some insight into life after last Friday’s atrocities

One Day in September was the name of the documentary that chronicled the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. Eleven were killed along with a German policeman. The Games continued.

Inadvertently Avery Brundage, the old-school American right-wing president of the International Olympic Committee had staged a metaphor for life. It is that life indeed goes on, with Brundage pushing the point home with brutal insensitivity.

Sport has a very real place in people’s lives and it has often been the target of attack because of its profile and mass following.

A suicide bomber outside Stade De France knew, or his master knew, exactly what he was doing with the French national team playing against Germany inside and 80,000 fans and television audiences to bear witness.


The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 by 12 gunmen outside the Gaddaffi Stadium ended with six cricketers injured, six Pakistani policemen and two civilians dead.

Cricket being cricket deplores loose ends, and while the match was rightly abandoned, it was needlessly declared a draw.

Ordinary people

In France ordinary people bore the brunt of the attacks in Paris and while some may see a crass aspect to drawing on sport as a prism to what happened when so many lost their lives, its validity lies it its own experiences from Hillsborough to Heysel.

Part of it is the interconnectivity, the coincidences and that sport – just like anything else but with its team mentality, its togetherness and friendship that bonds clubs and people – can occasionally help.

Four Irish people who play sport were in France this week and lived, heard, watched and saw the events unfold through their friends and family, their clubs, and their team mates.

It’s nothing more than that.

But Ireland, especially the Ireland of the 1970s and 1980s may have more empathy than most with the concept of tragic events interfacing with normal life and the consequences and decisions that must be made, and then the dealing with the wreckage.

Maybe Ireland understands more than most the cold reality of having to get on with what is left.

Maybe the important point, which Brundage certainly did not understand, is that there is a journey to be undertaken before the accommodation can unsteadily proceed.

This week that’s where confused people in France are, still in the crazy moment, trying to tackle random, indiscriminate acts with reason.

Ali Haughton: Hockey with Three Rock Rovers and now with Paris Jean Bouin

We were in the 7th arrondissement in an Irish bar watching Ireland play Bosnia and started getting calls from home. They flicked on the news. Everyone was in shock. We had a match against Lyon on the Sunday. They first said that the matches outside Paris were on. But when the two presidents spoke to each other it was cancelled. There is a lot of shock about what happened and away from sport there is a very eerie feeling. Everybody is eyeing each other up. You know, he’s got a bag. What’s in it? If you are on the metro, you can’t look out windows. You catch eyes the whole time. You certainly do get suspicious looks.

I work in a US bank, which is located in La Defense, which is just outside the Peripherique, a road that circles Paris. After the raids in St Denis there were news snippets talking about them targeting La Defense. That’s just the way it is. It has impacted. I’ve only been living in Paris a few months but I can see how it’s impacted. Our club president came down during the week. French people are very forthright. They don’t hold back with their feelings and because they are very emotional they are very involved in that sense. I wasn’t surprised the president interacted with them. It was shock and fear. The attitude is, it happened. It’s very real.

There was a player in division two who was one of the 129 [Thomas Ayed (34) died in the Bataclan]. He played with Amien. There were others with friends, family struck down which makes it very real. When I first came here we lived in La Rue Voltaire for two weeks. One of the bars was around the corner . . . Then France bombing Syria afterwards. It just makes it all so fragile.

Mike Prendergast: Former Munster scrumhalf and now Grenoble skills coach

There’s an air around the place after such devastation. We were playing up in Edinburgh when the news began to filter through. It was a massive shock especially for the French players but it wasn’t until later and the next morning that we knew how bad the whole situation was.

One or two of the players, Mahamadou Diaby and Jonathan Wisniewski, have a lot of ties with Paris and because of that connection it probably hit them harder. When we were coming back from Edinburgh we flew in to Geneva and there were delays at the border. We felt the sense something bad had happened. Now there definitely is a vibe of so much sadness. Then on Wednesday, another incident happened in St Denis in Paris, which kept the whole thing at a high level.

Munster's match this weekend against Stade Francais is off and rightly so. There was a story this week on Rugbyramma, which is a rugby website. The boys had heard a Stade Francais player, the hooker Remy Bonfils, was actually in one of the restaurants that were attacked in Paris. He was on the team injury list so he didn't travel to Leicester for their match. For the players that knew him it seemed like it was all getting closer and closer.

I’d say it is something the club will address this week. We are playing London Irish at the weekend and we’ve a president’s lunch every Friday for home games. I’m sure he will have something to say.

James Hart: Grenoble scrumhalf. Spent much of his childhood in Toulouse

My mum Patricia, who is French, went to art college in Toulouse. Summer, Easter, Christmas holidays I was In Toulouse.

The city lives for rugby. I grew up going to matches.

My uncle used to carry me on his shoulders to the games.

Now they come and watch me play in that stadium.

I went to Belvo and as a kid much preferred soccer. The ‘Clontarf Clique’ my mum used to say. But I played with Toulouse for a year when I was 14-years-old, for transition year.

I didn’t grow up supporting Leinster. I had a Toulouse shirt with Freddy Michalak on the back.

When it happened it was weird. Guys took out their phones as they do. Said there had been bombs.

Sixty or 70 people taken hostage. France is very diverse and there’s a huge population of Algerians living here. Already there is tension there. I think they felt they were mistreated during the war in Algeria.

On the Sunday I went for lunch with a friend and most restaurants were closed, which is very odd. The place was dead. I flicked onto Facebook and saw groups celebrating about the mission in Paris. It’s very public.

The French players were devastated when it all came out. In professional sport you get frustrated and learn how to deal with it and move on.

People are trying to get on but I think they are in a waiting moment. What’s going to happen next. But you just get on with life and that’s a sad thing.

People are deeply saddened, very angry but life goes on.

That’s the nature of life.

Sam Bennett: Belgian-born cyclist, raised in Carrick-on- Suir, now based in Monaco

We go out for training runs and very often we go east towards the Italian border. I’ve noticed there’s a much bigger police presence now, motorbikes on the roads.

We go across the border into Italy to get into the mountains for climbs and now there are two or three policemen there on the border with machine guns. In Nice the army are walking around everywhere, a big presence. Sometimes for the climbs we go to Sospel, a small town in the mountains in France and the police are there stopping cars and checking them out. Two days ago they surrounded a van. The security has gone up massively. Paris is far away from here but it’s closer than you think. Thursday was a holiday here. But they weren’t running anything. There were no events.

Early on this year I was at a race in Frankfurt, the Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop, and it was called off a few hours before it was supposed to start. The police had found bombs and rifles and ammunition inside the home of some people. [The arrested couple have been identified only as Halil D (35) and Senay D (34), under strict German privacy laws]. You only hear about it. It doesn’t really hit home. I was upset when it was cancelled but understood it was the right thing to do.

Even this year’s last stage of the Tour, a woman in a white cloak walked straight out into the middle of the peloton on the Champs Elysees. I was thinking how easy it was to do, for her to get into the middle of the peloton. You don’t have to buy tickets, just rock up. On Thursday we did 130km. We crossed the border into Italy. Before the attacks there was nobody on these narrow roads. Now the police and army are everywhere. I rode past them worried I wouldn’t get back in.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times