As fans of sports contemplate their own security as they go back to attending the sports they love many questions will be asked about their risk of sport terrorism happening. Will another gruesome act happen like what we have seen occur in Boston?
The concept of using a large scale sporting event as stage for terrorism is not a new concept, or anything not foreseen before this event. The 1976 movie, Black Sunday, focuses its plot on a Black September terrorist group that attempts to blow up a Good Year blimp over the Super Bowl stadium with 80,000 fans and the President of the United States in danger from the potential explosion. In the classic sport related film Naked Gun, baseball superstar Reggie Jackson plays the part of the California Angels right-fielder who is taken control of in order to kill Queen Elizabeth II at a baseball game only to be stopped by a character played by Leslie Nielsen as the umpire. The 1995 movie, Sudden Death features a group of terrorists holding the Vice President of hostage during the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Pittsburgh Civic Center. Stories about The attacks at the Munich and Atlanta Olympics prove that these tales of lethal sport violence are more than just fiction. If the bombings in soccer stadiums overseas were not close enough to shock the American culture, these explosions in Massachusetts have already sent an aftershock through the heart of the sports world as the pictures and stories of destruction and heroism have moved quickly through social media and traditional media at an alarming pace.
What it Sport Terrorism? Sport Terrorism is “Any Act of exertion of power resulting in an attack that focuses on a sport environment (Jamieson & Orr, 2009, p. 10).” Dr. Jamieson and I outlined the problem that occurs when sports and its appeal is taken to extremes of violence in our text book. With the recent 9/11 terror attacks fresh in our minds we quickly identified the sport field as a place susceptible to terrorist attacks through our research on the subject. Athletes were said to have bullied the eventual Columbine shooters and countless examples of violence and terror came up in our research of sport and criminal behavior. In fact, experts in academics, law enforcement and sport management have been working together in earnest since September of 2001 to make sure that the best practices in terrorism prevention were present in sporting events. Sporting events are a logical target for terrorists because they have high visibility around the world and were already considered an issue. If a group or cause is looking for publicity they would not be oblivious to the fact that the Super Bowl is so popular world-wide and that the commercials to capture that audience are outrageously priced. An act of terrorism would hijack the focus of the audience towards them creating a sinister application of guerrilla marketing worth millions in media impressions.
With this in mind, many steps and procedures have already been in place to help keep fans and athletes safe. Daily briefings from the government are common for major facilities directors to read and security is a priority for any major event. Snipers, police, trained dogs, and security guards protect dignitaries and fans at major events. Armed guards and the right to search people for potential bombs have to be treated with respect for event patrons to have a good time and not feel like they are being harassed by authorities. As we consider policy on stopping such acts of terror to occur it is important to consider how difficult it is in an event like the Boston Marathon where the public and athletes have traditionally mingled and the fans are not subject to the many safeguards that are now inherent in going to a major stadium to watch a sporting event. There is not the Plexiglas of Boston Garden keeping Boston Bruins fans off the ice, or the many barriers of security that protects athletes and fans at Gillette Stadium for New England Patriot fans.
Part of what makes the Boston Marathon so special is the “close” relationship between the runners and their fans. Unfortunately to criminal minds, this is vulnerability in security plans that have to consider maximizing the experience of those involved when making restrictions for safety. We cannot expect security to check the hundreds of thousands of people in Boston who are caring back packs for their babies, homework and other legal uses, yet we cannot allow incidents like this to scare people from attending and participating in large scale sporting events. These same issues are now on the mind of fans in any major sport. If “Sport Terrorism” is a trending epidemic, the discussion will have to take into account how strong of medicine we want to take when it comes to sacrificing freedom for security? Fans who flocked to the Boston Bruins game and sang the National Anthem with heartfelt patriotism have already shown us that the American sport fan is not easily daunted.
Jamieson & Orr. (2009). Sport and Violence; A Critical Examination of Sport. Elsevier, London.
Wyshynski. (2013). Bruins fans sing Anthem, chant ‘We Are Boston’, honor Martin Richard on Orr Statue. Yahoo sports.