Brazil’s Chapecoense were crowned champions of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana on Monday after almost all of their squad died in a plane crash in Colombia last week.
The announcement came from South America’s football governing body CONMEBOL who also recognized their would-be opponents Atletico Nacional with a “Fair Play” award.
The Colombian side had led calls for the title to be awarded to the ill-fated Brazilian team as a mark of respect following the deaths of 71 members of their travelling party on the outskirts of Medellin last week.
The Confederation wrote that it “has decided to declare the Chapecoense Football Association champion of the 2016 edition of the Sudamericana and give Atletico Nacional special recognition with the Centenary CONMEBOL Fair Play Award,” in a statement released on Monday.
Chapecoense were due to face off against Medellin’s Atletico Nacional last Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, South America’s Europa League equivalent, before their plane carrying a travelling party of “22 players, 28 companions and technical staff, 22 journalists and nine crew members” crashed just minutes before landing.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the Colombian club sent a plea to the governing body requesting that championship, South America’s second most prestigious be awarded to the Brazilians.
“On Wednesday November 30, the South American Football Confederation received a letter from the Atletico Nacional club, addressed to Mr. Alejandro Dominguez, President of CONMEBOL, inviting the CONMEBOL “to give the title of the Copa Sudamericana to the Chapecoense Football Association as an honorific laurel to its great loss and in posthumous tribute to the victims of the fatal accident that our sport mourns.”
Unofficial reports at the weekend had suggested that CONMEBOL were to accept the plea of the current Copa Libertadores champions but Monday’s statement formally confirmed it.
Chapecoense are to receive “all the sporting and economic prerogatives that this entails”, CONMEBOL confirmed, which will see the Brazilian club net a financial reward of USD$2 million.
Chapecoense had been the fairy-tale story of this year’s competition with a mesmeric rise from the fourth division of their domestic league in 2009 to what would have been their first appearance in an international final.
The crowning of Chapecoense as champions is reminiscent to what happened in Italy in 1949 when Torino was awarded the championship after their team, 31 people in total, were killed in an air disaster.
CONEMBOL’s recognition of Atletico Nacional with a Fair Play award pays tribute to their willingness “to promote South American football in a spirit of peace, understanding and fair play.”
The one-time award also includes a prize payment of USD$1 million to the Medellin-based club.
Supporters of the Colombian club were greatly affected by the tragedy with fans packing the stadium to capacity and thousands gathering outside for an emotional ceremony held at the original fixture time of the continental decider.
Chants of support for Chapecoense rang out around the stadium at half-time on Sunday as “Los Verdolagas” comfortably beat bitter rivals Millonarios 3-0 to qualify for the semi-finals of the Colombian League.
The 15-time league winners will fly out to Japan this week where they will begin preparations to represent South America in the Club World Cup.