LUXEMBORG, October 13,2011 - Last weekend, Luxembourg celebrated its first international sports journalists day - an occasion to remember some of the small country’s victories in sports.
"Look to your right to see the right side", joked Lucien Gretsch just after his speech, followed by laughter. On a ship cruising the river Moselle, that divides the two countries Luxembourg and Germany, the way smaller of the two was to the right of Gretsch, Vice President of Sportpress Luxembourg.
Proudly national as Gretsch’s joke, so was the set up of Luxembourg’s first international sports journalists day on October 8, 2011. Some of the country’s best and most memorable sportsmen and women were acknowledged as well as some of the most serious challenges of sports journalism addressed.
The choice of date was not a coincidence: Exactly 50 years before, Luxembourg’s footballers had beaten Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers with 4:2. Given the country’s small population of only half a million on the one side and the Portuguese star ensemble around a skilled talent called Eusebio on the other, the clear win was not just another football sensation.
Only thanks to Luxembourg’s unexpected victory, favourite England could qualify for the World Cup 1962. “The English manager had travelled to our stadium in Luxembourg to stand by us. After the match he rushed into our dressing room and thanked us all personally”, remembers striker Ady Schmit who scored the first three goals of the game.
Schmit and his teammates received their honours by their own country in form of crystal trophies only this Sunday, because back in 1961, there was yet no such thing as an award for “Luxembourg’s team of the year.”
Another trophy of crystal was dedicated in form of a 50 years’ anniversary: then only 17-year old water skier Sylvie Hülsenmann had become world champion in her discipline in 1961 and is to date one of the few Luxembourger athletes to have led a sport worldwide. The third trophy went to cyclist Kim Kirchen, who has been Luxembourg’s athlete of the year already six times and, among other victories, won a Tour de France stage in 2007 and 2008.
A year ago, Kirchen took the world’s breath when during the Tour de Suisse his heart suddenly stopped beating causing him to fall into a coma. Like a miracle, Kirchen survived and is since being checked by doctors to find out whether he can come back to professional cycling.
As the ship was cruising the Moselle, an homage was paid to Luxembourg’s first sport journalist, Alphonse Steinès, who worked for both French and Luxembourger media, among others for the predecessor of French sports daily L’Equipe, called L’Auto. Special credit was given to Steinès as he was among the founding fathers of the AIPS in 1924.
An early internationalist sports reporter, Steinès embodied what present AIPS President Gianni Merlo demanded today’s sports journalists to aspire to: “Sports journalists have to deliver more than just competition results. We are facing existential challenges including illegal betting and doping that can destroy sports. Our profession can make a difference here and we have to take on this task with courage and a very critical spirit.” As a multidisciplinary writer, already Steinès then combined sports with social topics.
Clearly not the only patriotic one, Lucien Gretsch’s joke about “the right side” was not the only amusing moment of the day either. Petz Lahure, President of Luxembourg’s sports media, who had invited representatives from various countries, suddenly asked the captain to stop for a moment.
On the banks of the Moselle, Paul Philipp, the president of Luxembourg’s football association was waiting. Lahure invited him onto the ship and the cruise went on. An almost intimate moment that could certainly not have happened on the other (German) side of the river, where life is much more anonymous, and where some of the honoured victories would be forgotten for long.