Has sport become the latest terror target?

By Rhys Hayward

togo bus attacks

For all the breathtaking sport we have witnessed over the past twelve months, its two defining events will be remembered for tragically negative reasons.

If last year’s attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team could have been dismissed as a horrific yet unique act of barbarism in one of the world’s least stable countries, then the events in Angola this week constitute a depressing trend.

Those involved with sport tend to glorify its significance far beyond reality when in truth, the details of who wins the World Cup or how fast Usain Bolt can run the 100 metres matters little. But for the millions who fanatically inflate the importance of hundreds of sports across the planet, it is these moments where we ought to reflect.

Earl Warren once said: “The sport section rewards people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures,” but, as idealistic as the sentiment is, it is not something which has seemed particularly relevant in the wake of the attacks on the Togo team.

Sportsmen should not be targeted in such a way but it seems that the Sri Lankan attacks may have legitimised sports teams as targets. Through the grace of some higher power none of the players were killed in either event but for the matter of a few inches, several may have perished.

Another of sport’s magnetic attractions is that it is a great leveller; a country existing of just eleven men could theoretically win the football World Cup. Indeed, this summer’s tournament in South Africa is part of Sepp Blater’s realisation of a dream to take the tournament away from its traditional European and South American stronghold and to a global audience. The more people, teams and nations included the better.

But these events only serve to destabilise this positive globalisation of sport and breed fear amongst touring teams. There is no suggestion that the events in Angola could or should affect the World Cup in South Africa, they are entirely different countries whose proximity is irrelevant when you place it in European terms, but another incident there could threaten the future of global tournaments.

European’s do not easily grasp the chaos of Africa and we may, subconsciously or not, make light of the Togo attacks as the kind of event synonymous with football in the continent but, were England, Brazil, Germany etc. made a similar target in the summer, it is inconceivable that the World Cup could continue.

The responsibility is on authorities throughout the world to preach vigilance whilst encouraging inclusiveness. It is with great sadness that it is difficult envisage reporting on an England cricket tour to Pakistan and, though the ACN is continuing as normal, how many sides will be happy to arrange friendlies in Angola in the future? How would the clubs who pay the wages of players react if England were lured to visit the country? Would the players take such a risk for a game of football?

The safety of the players should not be disregarded in the interests of global sport, but there is a responsibility, where possible, to encourage cooperation.

Pakistan’s future as a cricketing force hangs in the balance as a result of the March attacks but they have been handed a lifeline by the ECB, who have happily agreed to host Test Matches between Pakistan and Australia in England this summer. Whilst this is far from an ideal solution to the crisis within Pakistani cricket, it shows how alternatives can be found.

We stand on a precipice. If events of this nature fail to crop up again in the near future then we can begin to view them less of a trend and more as a disturbing quirk of history. If terrorists, vigilantes and rebels continue to pick on sports teams as an easy way to ensure maximum media exposure, we could well be faced with a shrinking sporting world.

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