Just months after the series of terror attacks on France, the nation was once again brought to a standstill as another attack left 84 dead and many injured in Nice. Despite the tragedy, the Tour de France rode on as planned on Friday. However, sports has not always remained unscathed by terrorism.
The Munich massacre in 1972 Olympics
We just got the final word... you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight
“We just got the final word... you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight,” said the famed American sports journalist Jim McKay, after receiving the official confirmation on death toll of the hostages in Munich.
September 5, 1972 is arguably the day modern sports lost its innocence. There was a time when sports was one of the few things which was reasonably immune to all the politics, bureaucracy, wars, diplomacy, hatred, and ideological conflicts surrounding this world. But the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre meant that sport, like any other sphere of life, was never safe again.
Amusingly, so keen was West Germany to cast away the imagery of the militarised Third Reich as presented by Adolf Hitler in the inauguration of the 1936 Berlin Games, that security was kept deliberately lax. It was then only inevitable that the athlete’s village would find itself a target by known terrorist groups.
Palestinian terrorist group Black September took eleven Israeli Olympic team members hostage, and demanded the release of 234 prisoners jailed in Israel along with the founders of the Red Army Faction, who were being held in Germany. The Munich police were not equipped to deal with a hostage situation, while restrictions in the post-war German constitution meant that the army could not participate in rescue operation as well. The 16-hour standoff ended with the devastating death of 11 Israeli athletes and a German police officer.
In the aftermath, the Games was suspended, for the first time in its history, in order to conduct the memorial service of the deceased at the Olympic stadium. The service was attended by 80,000 spectators and 3000 athletes. It was possibly the darkest day in the millennia old history of Olympics, and one which pushed past a threshold - even our sporting heroes could now be collateral damage in between the geopolitics of terror.
Three separate attacks on Iraqi athletes in 2006
More than a year later, the remains of 13 team members — mostly skulls and bones entangled in tattered sports uniforms — were found near the main highway leading to Jordan
“More than a year later, the remains of 13 team members — mostly skulls and bones entangled in tattered sports uniforms — were found near the main highway leading to Jordan.” Shockingly, these words were printed in the sports section of a daily.
In 2006, Iraq's sporting fraternity was attacked on three different occasions. On 17 May, a taekwondo team of 15 members - athletes and coaches - were kidnapped on their way to Jordan for a tournament, and it was not until a year had passed that their remains were found on a highway. Just nine days after that incident, masked gunmen killed an Iraqi tennis coach and two of his players.
Even before the nation could recover from this shock, on July 15, 37 athletes and officials, including the head of the Iraq's Olympic Committee Ahmed al-Hadjiya, were abducted from a sports conference in Baghdad by 50 gunmen. Only 13 of those people were eventually released.
Karachi bus bombing in 2002
People were screaming in the hotel and I saw a number of dead people lying on the road. It was horrific.
"People were screaming in the hotel and I saw a number of dead people lying on the road. It was horrific," said Waqar Younis, the then Pakistan captain. In one single moment, all the fears international teams had been screaming about playing in Pakistan finally came true, and cricket was scared like never before. A suicide bomber parked his car next to bus, outside the Sheraton Hotel, and detonated it. Many Kiwi and Pakistani cricketers were staying in the very same hotel, and the blast killed Pakistan cricket team's physiotherapist, two civilians, and 11 French Naval experts, along with injuring 40 others. The New Zealand team returned home after the incident, and it turned out to be a cautionary tale of things to come in the future.
History repeats itself in Lahore, 2009
Seven years after that terrifying suicide blast in 2002, cricket once again came under attack from terrorism, this time at Lahore. The Sri Lankan team was at the receiving end this time around and the cricketing world was rocked to its core. After all, the Islanders were only touring Pakistan after India had pulled out due to security concerns, just a year after the Mumbai attacks.
On their way to a match against the hosts, the Sri Lankan cricket team's bus was attacked by 12 masked gunmen, just outside the stadium in Lahore. The bus was attacked with rockets, grenades and multiple rounds of ammo, killing six policemen, two civilians, and injuring six players, two staff members, and an umpire. The attack was orchestrated by the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and it turned out to be the final straw as far as international cricket in Pakistan is concerned. The nation is yet to host a Test match at home following that incident.
Bombing at the world's oldest annual marathon in 2013
Two men with distorted ideologies and access to internet, where they learned how to make the bomb, made sure that 16 people lost their legs, including a 7-year-old girl, at a marathon which is supposed to be a celebration of human spirit and endurance.
It was a sun-filled afternoon in April in Boston and some 23,000 participants took part in 117th edition of the Boston Marathon on Patriot's day. At 2:49 in the afternoon, with more than 5600 runners still in the race, two pressure-cooker bombs, which were packed with shrapnel, went off near the finish line, and chaos rained down.
Three spectators were killed, one of whom was an 8-year-old boy, and 260 people were injured. Two brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were responsible for this carnage, although they were never formally linked with any of the known terrorist groups. Two men with distorted ideologies and access to internet, where they learned how to make the bomb, made sure that 16 people lost their legs, including a 7-year-old girl, at a marathon which is supposed to be a celebration of human spirit and endurance. What was supposed to be a celebration of human endurance ended up being another reminder of how much we all are vulnerable in today’s world.
Centennial Olympic park bombing in 1996
When I reached the entrance to the Village, the gate had shut. I pleaded with the guards to let me in and showed them my credentials. I told them my parents had gone home and public transport had been shut down. I had nowhere to go.
“When I reached the entrance to the Village, the gate had shut. I pleaded with the guards to let me in and showed them my credentials. I told them my parents had gone home and public transport had been shut down. I had nowhere to go...” – India's Leander Paes said last month while recalling the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
It was a carnival atmosphere at the Centennial Olympic park. There was a music concert, and hundreds of people had gathered to soak up the atmosphere. Suddenly, three pipe bombs, planted by Eric Robert Rudolph, went off killing Alice Hawthorne as a nail from the bomb penetrated her skull. The 44-year-old had brought her little daughter to the concert, who returned home motherless. A Turkish cameraman, ged 40, also died off a fatal heart attack after the blast, while 111 people were injured.
Despite the attack, the Games went on as planned, but an innocent security guard was charged with the crime. Eventually, Richard Jewell was exonerated, and Eric Robert Rudolph was found guilty of what turned out to be the first of four bombings. His motive? Here is the statement Rudolph gave to justify his act: “In the summer of 1996, the world converged upon Atlanta for the Olympic Games. Under the protection and auspices of the regime in Washington millions of people came to celebrate the ideals of global socialism. Multinational corporations spent billions of dollars, and Washington organized an army of security to protect these best of all games. Even though the conception and purpose of the so-called Olympic movement is to promote the values of global socialism, as perfectly expressed in the song Imagine by John Lennon, which was the theme of the 1996 Games even though the purpose of the Olympics is to promote these ideals, the purpose of the attack on July 27 was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.
“The plan was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested.”
Sri Lanka's new year marathon massacre in 2008
It was a marathon to celebrate the start of the Tamil new year, and it turned out to be a nightmare. A suicide bomber attacked at the start of the race, killing 15 athletes and injured 100 more. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, the highway minister, army officer Lt Colonel Udayadeera, former Olympic marathon runner KA Karunaratne, and the national athletics coach Lakshman de Alwis were also among the casualties.
The incident was caught on live television, as pictures of blood-stained road and panic driven crowd was delivered across the nation. The government later blamed the infamous Tamil Tigers for the attack.
Togo team attacked during the Africa Cup of Nations in 2010
All the players, everyone was crying, calling their mums, crying on the phone, saying their last words because they thought they'd be dead.
"I'm still under shock. I was one of those who carried the injured players into the hospital - that is when I realised what was really going on. All the players, everyone was crying, calling their mums, crying on the phone, saying their last words because they thought they'd be dead," former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor said after the incident.
The Togo national team were machine-gunned by rebels (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda) of Angola's oil-rich territory of Cabinda while traveling from the Republic of Congo. These rebels had been fighting for the region's independence for a long time, and they warned that this was just the “start of a series of targeted actions that will continue in all the territory of Cabinda”.
Nine people were injured in the incident, including central defender Serge Akakpo, who was struck by two bullets, and reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, while the bus driver, team's assistant manager Abalo Amelete, and the media officer Stanislas Ocloo were killed. The players were left in a state of shock, and subsequently the team withdrew from the tournament.
The day France stood still, 2015
A series of coordinated terrorist attacks across France left nearly 137 dead, while 368 were injured. Stade de France was hosting a friendly football match between Germany and France, and the stadium was at the heart of this attack. Two suicide attacks and a bombing took place at a bar closed the packed stadium, which hosted 80,000 fans including the French president Francois Hollande, killing three people and a injuring several more. The blast was heard by the spectators, and by the fans watching the match across the world.
As panic grew inside the stadium, French and German supporters gathered on the pitch, before being evacuated by the police, and the players watched on from the tunnel. The German team stayed in the stadium the whole night, before flying back home the next morning. Time stood still that night, and so did football.
Al Qaeda threatens Dakar Rally in 2008
Dakar Rally is one of the most dangerous sporting events in the world—as many as 70 people have lost their lives since in began in 1979—however, it faced a bigger threat in 2008, from none other than the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.
The race was scheduled to start in Portugal and end in Dakar, Senegal. However, eight of the 15 stages was set to take place in Mauritania, where a French family was slaughtered by Al Qaeda. The French government gave safety warnings to the organizers, who had reportedly also received direct threat from the terrorist cell. Eventually, the race was called off, for the first time in its history, before returning in South America next year.
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