POSTED: November 19th 2015

JOHN GOODBODY: Sport is so vulnerable to terrorism

Wembley Stadium decorated with the French flag in solidarity as the national anthem played / Getty Images
Wembley Stadium decorated with the French flag in solidarity as the national anthem played / Getty Images

'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' was blazed across Wembley Stadium in front of the statue of Bobby Moore / Getty Images
'Liberte, Igalite, Fraternite' was blazed across Wembley Stadium in front of the statue of Bobby Moore / Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Europe and probably many other continents of the world have become transfixed by the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people and left almost one more hundred fighting for their lives. The fact that one of the assaults occurred last Friday outside the Stade de France, where the national team were playing Germany in a friendly football international, has linked sport with the outrages.

Yet, this week, the French team travelled to London and were regaled with a simple ceremony before meeting England, with the 71,000 Wembley crowd joining in the Marseillaise and then remaining silent for a minute in memory of the dead, one of whom was the cousin of the mid-fielder Lassana Diarra. The stadium was lit up in red, white and blue, the French colours. 

Far too often sadly, football crowds and English spectators in particular will not respect such moments. But this time, the behaviour of the fans was impeccable but then, of course, this was not such a moment. The scale of the events was on a different scale from previous occasions. As Wayne Rooney, the England captain, said: "This is an opportunity to show the terrorists that the world will go on and stand against them."

Rooney's words reflected this widespread feeling that the terrorists must not win and the way to do that is for life to continue as normal, even if extra precautions have to be taken. However, there were those who argued differently.

In 2016, France hosts the quadrennial European Football Championships. This is an event that rivals the Winter Olympics, the Formula One Championship and European Champions League as the third biggest international sports event after the Summer Olympics and Fifa World Cup.

Just Fontaine, the Frenchman who holds the record of scoring the most goals (13) in a single World Cup, said that his homeland should renounce the right to stage the competition. He said:"I am very afraid that this black Friday could be repeated. I think we cannot guarantee the safety that is required to host such a big event."

However, Uefa, the governing body for European football, confirmed that the tournament will take place in France, with the draw being held in Paris on December 12. It said: "For over three years now, Euro2016 SAS "(the organising committee)"has been working closely with the relevant authorities to develop the most appropriate mechanisms in order to guarantee there is a safe and secure tournament and we are confident that the necessary measures will be taken to ensure that this is the case for all involved."

Yet, sport remains a target because its leading competitions are so popular and also because huge numbers of people gather in a small area. This increases the likelihood of masses of deaths and it is salutary to keep in mind that if an alert security guard had not spotted one of the spectators trying to enter the stadium in Paris last Friday had a bomb strapped to his body, the numbers killed would have been even higher than they were.

Organisers of major events are always alert to the possibility of an attack. There is an argument that when these competitions take place, the terrorists avoid them because they know they are so heavily policed. Yet there are so many locations, where terrorists can attack and by doing so, they can disrupt the competition, possibly leading to its cancellation, and attract enormous publicity to their cause.

On the same night that England met France at Wembley, Germany was due to play the Netherlands in Hanover. But this was called off because the police had "concrete evidence" that a bomb attack was being planned. Sport remains particularly vulnerable to such threats and will continue to be so.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

Keywords · Olympics · France · John Goodbody

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