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Boston bombs: No 100 percent safety in sport

The Boston Marathon bombs are a gruesome reminder that there will never be 100 per cent safety and security for fans, officials and participants at sports events. From the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympics and the Centennial Park bomb at Atlanta 1996 to fan violence at football games, the stabbing of tennis player Monica Seles and attacks on Togo footballers and Sri Lanka cricket players, there is always a limit to what state authorities can do.

Safeguarding a marathon course is one of the biggest challenges as it is impossible to turn city streets into a fortress. “You can’t secure an entire 42-kilometres course,” Berlin marathon race director Mark Milde told ZDF television Tuesday. Berlin, where the next race is scheduled in late September, is reviewing its security arrangements, and so is London, where more than 40,000 runners will undertake the race on Sunday.

“It is difficult (to make the whole course secure) but we’ve lived with the threat of terrorism throughout my adult life. We do have some of the very best security services in the world and they have experience of doing this and will do what’s necessary,” British sports minister Hugh Robertson told the BBC. Russian authorities are set to take another look at their arrangements ahead of the August 10-18 world athletics championships in Moscow which also features marathon races, as well as their measures for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup. So does Brazil, which hosts the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio.

While nothing comparable to the Boston events has happened at a major marathon, a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber caused the death of 13 people when he detonated a bomb at the start of a marathon in Sri lanka in 2008. And there have been incidents at big marathons. At the 1972 Games, a German student sneaked onto the course in running gear on the final kilometre and entered the stadium first before being taken off the track by security personnel.

Scarier was the incident at the 2004 Olympics in Athens where Irish priest Cornelius Horan – who also ran onto the track at a 2003 Formula One race in Silverstone – grappled Brazilian race leader Vanderlei de Lima. Tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators create security headaches for the authorities, and officials always acknowledge that a risk remains at major sports events.

Ever since the 1972 attack of a Palestinian commando on Israel’s Olympic team, and even more in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, security has been a top issue especially at Olympic Games. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by host cities and their governments to protect athletes and fans, with airport-style scanners a familiar sight at venues along with a visible presence of police and armed forces.

However, the bomb blast at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, which left two dead and 111 injured at the city’s Centennial Park, was still possible. Football World Cups are another closely protected event, from potential terrorists but also violent fans who still find their stage around The Beautiful Game, from the Heysel tragedy at the 1985 Champions Cup final (39 dead) and the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (96 dead) to the 2012 Port Said riots (79 dead).

In addition Basque separatists detonated a bomb near Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium ahead of a Champions League semi-final with rivals Barcelona. Three died when Togo’s team bus was attacked by gunmen at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010, and six policeman and a driver died when Sri Lanka’s cricket team bus was attacked on the way to a stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2009.

Thee famous Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race was stopped by a protester in 2012, and tennis had a rude awakening that the elegant sport was not safe either when at the 1993 German Open in Hamburg an obsessed Steffi Graf fan stabbed her rival Monica Seles in the back during a changeover break.

Security personnel behind players at changeovers is now a familiar view but all measures in any sport must draw a fine balance between maximum protection and minimum disturbance of the event itself and its enthusiastic fans – as pointed out by organising committee chief Sebastian Coe ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. “I am confident that everything we can possibly do to make these a safe and secure Games will be done. I want people coming to the Games feeling they are in a city of celebration, not a city that is a siege town,” Coe said. However, that’s exactly what Boston became after the twin bombs went off and turned a celebration of distance running and sport in general into what looked like a city under attack.

John Bagratuni, "Boston bombs: No 100 percent safety in sport," Business recorder. 2013-04-17.
Keywords: Social issues , Social crisis , Social system , Social needs , Social rights , Suicide bomber , Olympic team , Terrorism , Crimes , Players , Sri Lanka

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