Thursday, November 19, 2015

Terrorism and international football (soccer)

The November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris included several bombs that went off in the vicinity of the Stade de France, the football (soccer for Americans, but I'll use "football" in the remainder of this piece) stadium that was, at the time, hosting an international friendly between France and Germany. As has been well documented, the explosions could be heard in the stadium and on the pitch, French President Francois Hollande was in attendance there, and several French players had family members directly affected by the attacks (the cousin of one was killed in one of the shootings, the sister of another escaped from the Bataclan theatre).

There is little doubt that the bombings at the Stade de France were planned to coincide with the match. It's possible that there was even a built-in assassination attempt on Hollande, as well. Obviously, sporting events are soft targets for terrorist acts and ones that involve other nations can have an added impact, as the likelihood of victims from other nations increases.

So perhaps it would be wise to look at the schedules for international football, the international breaks mandated by FIFA, and take added precautions against terrorist attacks on the appropriate dates. Part of the reason I say this is that a major terrorist attack occurred on the previous FIFA international break, as well: the Ankara bombing on October 10th, 2015 in Turkey. In that incident, over one hundred people died. While no group has officially claimed responsibility, links to ISIS have been uncovered. And while the bombings were clearly directed at people involved in a peace rally, it is still nonetheless the case that there were international football matches on October 10th, and the days that followed.

Interestingly, no moment of silence was mandated at these matches following the Ankara bombings, a point that was not lost on the people of Turkey and on some in the media. In contrast, moments of silence for the victims in Paris were observed at every international match on the following days. And the English Premier League intends to have a moment of silence for Paris prior to every game in the upcoming week's matches.

But I digress. Again, there is some congruity here, with regard to these last two major terrorist attacks. And regardless of whether or not the timing of the Ankara bombings was coincidental with regard to the international break, there is little doubt that the timing of the Paris attacks revolved around the match that day at the Stade de France. Moving forward, on the horizon are the 2016 Euros, the UEFA European Championships. And the host country for this event? That's right, it's France.

The Euros are scheduled to be held from June to July throughout France, with matches in Paris (including the championship match, of course), Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Saint-Denis, Saint-√Čtienne, and Toulouse. While the Euros are not the World Cup, they are still a significant event for Europe and of course for France (and carry a major economic component for the last).

The FFF (French Football Federation)—which is tasked with organizing the actual matches in France—is acutely aware of what these attacks mean for the 2016 Euros, insofar as security will have to be stepped up another notch. And that's good. But the question must be asked: will it be enough?

Of course, the counter to this is that the Euros must go on, that postponing them, moving them, or cancelling them is giving in to terror, is giving the terrorists exactly what they want. And that's true. Still, a successful terrorist attack—because the Stade de France bombings were actually not successful—at a major European football match is going to have serious consequences, ones that we can as of now only guess at. So before the Euros start, France and FIFA better be pretty damn sure that they have all of their bases covered.

1 comment:

  1. With so much focus on the presence quasi-military battalions in Syria and Iraq, many have lost sight of one glaring fact: If there's any real chance of ISIS fracturing along ethnic or factional lines, it's on the front lines. In order to bolster unity and achieve measurable success, nearly every operational model indicates continued (and increased) attacks on high profile soft targets. Leadership of ISIS understands that these attacks aren't a luxury, but an imperative. As you say, France and FIFA would be wise to heed the indicators. (As would the US as we enter the holiday season)