The vile attack in Manchester just last week sent shockwaves through our society. An atrocity of this type touches every part of our culture, and it is our response that shows the strength of the values that these attacks are designed to erode. In times like these it is unity that shows our true strength, and it often falls to the most divided of pursuits to bring us together. For how better to show our true unity than through a pastime that pits us against each other week in week out – sport.
It is precisely because sport is about division that it is the greatest expression of our collective strength at times of tragedy. The Manchester attack preceded a weekend packed with high profile and high pressure showcase sport. From cricket to rugby to football each sport had a crucial match, and in each both sets of players honoured the victims of the Manchester attacks. Across teams and across nations, competitors came together in a clear and simple act of unity. In our line of work we spend all year constructing narratives of good versus evil, telling a story where competitors are either hero or villain. Which means at times like this sport has a rare opportunity and obligation to present a united front. For our entertainment we create divisions and so for our inspiration sport must come together. It’s exactly what it did last weekend.
The greatest show of unity comes from those who you would never expect to unite. Consider Manchester United and Manchester City. Two bitter rivals whose fans week on week feel genuine hatred towards each other. But in the wake of the attack in their city, they showed themselves more united than ever before. A tweet sent by City moments after United’s Europa League win summed it up perfectly:
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 24, 2017
The message was clear. For all the talk, for all the rivalry, some things are bigger than sport. They came together to deliver the greatest example of how together we are strong, and divided we are weak.
But for all that professionals have done, the greatest show of strength this weekend came not from elite, but amateur athletes. The Great Manchester Run brought together thousands of people from Manchester and beyond for a collective act of defiance and unity. With people packing the streets of Manchester runners showed their very symbolic ability to carry on in trying circumstances. For our client Duracell, as well as other brands such as Simplyhealth and Puma, activating in Manchester became a very different matter. This was a celebration of human spirit, not a celebration of brands. It became about stepping back, helping enable the brilliance of runners, but staying well out of the limelight. The human spirit on show was inspiring, and even for brands like Duracell, whose activation was based on providing a service in the form of providing pacemakers, it was a day about being seen as little as possible, and heard even less.
Sport can captivate, it can entertain and it can inspire. But this weekend it did something more, it healed. As teams came together, as rivals united and as a city showed its strength, sport was the force that fought back in the face of terrible adversity. Sport has incredible power and potential, something that all those who work with it eventually understand. For many, this was the weekend that message that truly sunk in.