With the recent bombings of Paris and Beirut, the global perspective of safety and security has been altered. People across the world, even those in the United States who are a whole ocean away from these attacks, are worried about further attacks after ISIS has threatened that these most current attacks will not be the last. Panic has stricken the world with fear and feelings of insecurity about when the next attacks might take place. These fears were almost realized last Friday night in Paris at the Stade de France stadium where an international friendly between the French and German national teams were scheduled to take place.
Before the game, the German national team’s Molitor hotel in Paris had to be evacuated around lunchtime due to a bomb threat. Already shaken from this experience, the team still arrived at the field ready to play against France. After the two teams began playing, a bomb that could be heard within the stadium was detonated right outside of the its front gates. Later, the teams learned that a suicide bomber attempted to gain access to the stadium since he had a ticket to the game, but was detained by security after they noticed a large belt with what they believed could be explosives. This action saved the lives of hundreds within the stadium as the bomber was forced to apply his Plan B by exploding the bomb outside the stadium, killing three people and a few others injured. The teams continued to play and were not told about the bomb threat until after the game concluded, even though the French President, Francois Hollande, was escorted from the stadium.
After the game, both teams and their fans were forced to stay within the stadium overnight since restaurants and concert halls all around the stadium were experiencing numerous other attacks at the same time. These attacks killed hundreds of French citizens and tourists, alike. Unfortunately, this was not a threat isolated within the borders of France. An international friendly only a few days ago in Hanover, Germany between Germany and the Netherlands had to be cancelled due to “suspicious objects” found that could potentially be explosive devices. The stadium was quickly and safely evacuated and no one was harmed through the threats.
In the wake of this heartbreak and danger, how does the sports’ world respond?
Two differing views have now come to light in the context of these terrorist attacks as to how sporting events should be treated in Paris, Beruit and surrounding areas. On one hand, some have argued that all matches should be suspended indefinitely until these attacks pass over. Every time a sporting event occurs, thousands of fans gather to cheer on their favorite team as they compete against an opponent. However, the danger of this, especially in areas where bomb threats or terrorist attacks have recently taken place, is incredibly high. Some view sporting events as doing half of the terrorists work for them since they gather a large amount of people in a small amount of space, which is exactly what terrorists look for when trying to identify a target for their attacks. For this exact reason, one of the terrorist attacks from last weekend also occurred at Paris’ Bataclan concert hall where the Eagles of Death Metal were playing for a large crowd. The New York Times later reported that 89 people died in the mass shooting. For this reason, sporting events are looked at in a similarly dangerous way due to the nature of thousands of people packed into one arena or stadium.
On the flip side of the argument, sporting events have long been known to provide optimism and hope in the face of tragedy. Over the years, there have been many examples of this hope. During the 1980 Winter Olympics, the United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union after Cold War friction between the two countries. In 2013, after the infamous Boston Marathon Bombing that killed three people and injured hundreds more, the Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series at home in Fenway Park. After the close association and bond that the team formed with Boston, the team’s win helped rebuild the broken and devastated city. With many other examples, as well, some argue that due to the passion and intensity that sports can provide, a sporting event is sometimes the best healer to help mend fractured cities and broken hearts.
In the end, France decided to play a scheduled friendly against England this past Tuesday, despite the fact that their nation is attack-torn and mourning. However, the soccer game provided the team an opportunity to not allow the attackers to have the upper hand.
“We had some concerns about the game,” said Hugo Lloris, the goalkeeper for France, before the game. “But at the end, the president confirmed that we had to play this game… I think maybe the French nation is more important than the French football tomorrow.”
Prior to kickoff, both the French and English national teams sang a moving version of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” along with the thousands of others attending the match to honor the 129 deceased victims of the Paris attacks. This response shows that sporting events can provide hope and healing for many. Not to say that safety took a backseat for the soccer match, though. Fans traveling from outside the borders of England were not allowed to attend the game due to safety concerns.
At the end of the day, the safety of all involved, whether it be the players or the fans, is the primary concern. If a game can be played within the safety of that context, as it was on Tuesday in England, then most naysayers would have less of an issue. Similar to the tides of momentum during a sporting event, the French soccer match on Tuesday may provide similar push back against the fear that the Paris attacks originally supplied. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” In the midst of great tragedy, sometimes hope is all the world has to hold on to. Whether that hope is found in writing, conversations or sporting events, it is equally as beneficial and equally as necessary.