Monday, December 13, 2004

Bombs at the Bernabeu

Tonight's match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad was called off with three minutes left to play, on account of a bomb threat made. The lesson that must be learnt from this is that sportsmen are huge targets. It has been a recurring theme of my blog that we underestimate the links between sport and politics at our peril. When we come to write histories of the twentieth century, we are foolish in the extreme if historians choose to ignore sporting culture and sporting history as the best means to understand our past.

In Madrid, the fact that Real have been targeted is nothing new. Indeed, as the linked report states, just before a Champions League in 2002, there was a car bomb exploded outside their stadium. Why do I mention all this? Because I think it is far too easy to be complacent about the security of our top sports stars.

Anti-Americanism in Romania has risen recently because a rock star was killed in a car accident involving a drunken Marine, who has since been seconded out of the country and thus unable to stand trial for his actions. I think effects on public opinion in the Western world would be very similar if a terrorist attack was to be carried out at a major sporting event. In fact, not just in the Western world - the India-Bangladesh series was in doubt earlier this week in light of a terrorist threat.

The effects of such an attack would be huge. We don't think about it, but we actually take sporting events for granted. A weekend comes by, there's another round of league matches. The extra-special events we build up to in our minds, but in reality they occur with a degree of regularity - a Test series every summer and winter; a major football championship every two years; a set number of international matches per year. If the supposed security of this schedule was to be interrupted due to a terrorist attack, it would shake our society far more than we might imagine. Al-Qaeda and their vile supporters plan for "spectaculars" because they attack things that we take for granted. The Twin Towers were a symbolism of American financial power; the Madrid bombings resonated around the world because we all realised how mundane the journeys of the victims were.

So to 'take out' national sporting heroes would have the desired and long-lasting impact that terrorists long for. Abu Hamza earlier this year attacked British culture because all people wanted to do was "drink pints and watch football". An attack on an England football match would by no means be out of the question, and from the point of view of these vile fundamentalists would have precisely the desired effect. Something we take as a centrepiece of national culture (it is very interesting how large amounts of nationalism are now expressed most forcefully through football matches) destroyed and shaken to the core by Islamic supremacists. A truly shuddering thought, but one we must be prepared for.