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Sporting Event Violence

Posted on 12th January 2010. One Comment

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Tom Walker on how the recent Togo assault is just another reminder of an ongoing saga…

“Hostility has frequently found its way into the newspapers via sporting events…”

The machine gun attack on the Togo football team bus, killing three and wounding two, is the latest miserable day to record in the heavily blemished diary of world sport. Hostility has frequently found its way into the newspapers via sporting events and the genuine possibility that Emmanuel Adebayor, a Premiership star for four years, could easily be lying in a coffin, is a disturbing reminder that such aggression is not a world away.

It seems a lifetime ago when Didier Drogba, through the catalyst of football, did more than years of civil war and negotiations could do for peace in the Ivory Coast. The Chelsea striker stunned so many when he proposed to play a home match in Bouaké, the capital of the rebel-held North, as opposed to the government-loyal South. People from all over the country laid down their guns, set aside their differences and united to support their nation. Rivers of joyous tears were shed as such deep-held hatred melted away, celebrating together as the Ivory Coast thrashed Madagascar 5-0. When political violence meets sport, some beautiful and astonishing consequences can be seen. The case for Togo, however, was harrowingly different, and the latest episode in an ongoing and wretched saga.

“The attacks were, as is frequently the case, attributed to an Islamic extremist group…”

Merely ten months ago, the Sri Lankan cricket team were ambushed with bombs and guns in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Eight were killed, whilst seven others were injured. It is despondently ironic that Sri Lanka had replaced India to tour the country when the latter deemed it unsafe after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The attacks were, as is frequently the case, attributed to an Islamic extremist group, this one being Lashkar-e-Taiba (literally Army of the Good). The objectives of these militants include establishing a South Asian Islamic state hence deeming it appropriate to kill peaceful, and predominately Buddhist, Sri Lankan cricketers. As was the case for the Togo team, the sportsmen themselves were seemingly blessed and avoided any serious injury.

The Sri Lankans were again the victims in 2008 when a former Olympic runner, a government minister and twelve others were killed by Tamil Tiger rebels who had been fighting for independence in the north of the country. An event that had been planned to bring people together for Sinhalese New Year had twisted into another inescapable reminder of the severe divisions that run through the nation. The number of people injured reached treble figures.

“Sport evidently was not an escape from the Jewish-Islamic conflict…”

The 1972 Olympics saw one of the most poignant and infamous events in the history of sport, the aptly named Munich Massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed, along with a West German police officer, in what will always be the lasting memory of the Munich Olympics. Sport evidently was not an escape from the Jewish-Islamic conflict, with the murders attributed to Islamic Palestinian militant group Black September, who harboured ties with Yasser Arafat. Israel responded with airstrikes and assassinations of those suspected of being responsible. Estimations put this death toll of up to 200.

I name these instances as merely the tip of an enormous iceberg. Several sporting events have been postponed, cancelled or held with an ongoing fear of aggression. The Togolese squad have now pulled out of the African Cup of Nations, for fear of safety and respect to the deceased. The remaining players in Angola, with this in the forefront of their mind, will look up into the thousands of spectators knowing that just one person could cause devastation. Alaixys Romao’s comments that, “we can’t abandon them and leave like cowards,” are somewhat bemusing. I, for one, do not see any cowardice in the legitimate trepidation of being blown up. 8th January 2010 provided high-profile coverage and an international platform for the wishes of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda. It is abject that sport, so often responsible for breaking down barriers and bringing people together, has to, again, brave the face of such actions. I can tell you now that many similar events are still to come.

Tom Walker

One Comment »

  • Smithy said:

    Thought provoking.