Sports Security and Terrorism

Terrorism is the deliberate and systematic use of violence and intimidation in anywhere the actions are intended to achieve or to influence a political result. Terrorist acts have been perpetrated for as long as there have been political disputes. The term was first employed by British statesman Edmund Burke (1729–1797) to describe the actions of the Jacobins during the French Revolution in the late 1790s. Notable terrorist actions in recent history include those of the Irish Republican Army against Britain at various times throughout the twentieth century, the efforts of various terrorist groups that have been directed against the state of Israel since its founding in 1948, and the coordinated attacks upon various American targets made by Al-Qaeda agents on September 11, 2001, the events collectively known as the 9/11 attacks.

Sporting events, particularly those with global appeal, are an obvious terrorist target, as such attacks will attract the attention of the world to the particular terrorist cause. The capture and the subsequent murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Olympics was such an act. Members of the Palestinian group "Black September" sought the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel through these means. The deaths of the Israeli athletes is regarded the one of the most significant terrorist acts ever committed prior to the 9/11 attacks. A related issue that remains controversial was that made by International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage with respect to the continuation of the Games in the wake of the Israeli team killings. Brundage directed that the Games would continued as scheduled, after a one day delay.

Prior to 1972, the Olympics had not previously been the target of any significant terrorist activity. The murder of the Israeli athletes at Munich altered the nature and extent of sports event security forever. At every Games held since the 1972 Olympics, security has been a significant and highly visible presence. In addition to on site protection, the police forces of the host nation seek and obtain information from other nations with respect to any possible terrorist risk that might manifest itself at the Olympics.

While terrorism on the level of the Munich killings has never been replicated at an international sporting event, a number of terrorist acts have been perpetrated with an indirect impact upon international sport. A notable example was the destruction of a Korean Airlines jet by a terrorist bomb in 1987. Subsequent investigation revealed that the perpetrators intended to disrupt the lead up to the 1988 Summer Olympics that was ultimately hosted by South Korea. In 1996, a bomb planted by a domestic terrorist was detonated in the Atlanta Games Olympic Park, with one person killed and over 100 injured. In 1997, the Olympic stadium in Stockholm was severely damaged by a terrorist bomb, planted by a group who were opposed to a Swedish bid for the 2004 Olympic Games that were ultimately awarded to Athens.

The 9/11 attacks served to further heighten security concerns, especially with respect to both the potential threat to American athletes competing abroad and the staging of events on American soil. Teams representing the United States in events as diverse as the Ryder Cup golf championship and international tennis tournaments have been the subject of close security protection for this reason.

At the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, the American organizers of the Games instituted two measures then unique to Games security. A 52 mile no-fly zone was imposed around the entire Games site, and sharpshooters were placed on various mountain top positions to protect specific competition venues.

The Maccabiah Games are often referred to as the "Jewish Olympics," a quadrennial sports festival that attracts Jewish athletes from around the world to Israel to compete in an Olympic styled format. The Maccabiah Games are held in Jerusalem, and the proximity of the Games to Israel's Arab neighbors, particularly the nearby Palestinian population, has been a point of significant friction since the Games were first held in 1950. Threats from various terrorist groups directed towards the Maccabiah Games and its competitors are common.

The Maccabiah Games attracts approximately 7,500 athletes and many thousands of visitors; at the seventteenthMaccabiah Games in 2005, over 2,000 Israeli soldiers were deployed at the competition venues, with larger numbers at the opening and closing ceremonies. All athletes were assigned a non-transferable identification card, with several built in security features, including encryption to prevent counterfeiting.

The World Cup of soccer is a 32 nation championship that is contested in a number of different stadiums in the host country. While international soccer has been plagued in recent years by "hooliganism," the excessive fan behavior made most notorious by the supporters of English soccer. FIFA, the world governing body of the sport has implemented security measures, including the deployment of police and private security forces en masse at every game, coupled with an extensive behind the scenes security work up, including the obtaining of lists of every known undesirable person who might attend the World Cup from any of the participating countries.

Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the level of security present at most North American sporting events was relatively modest, as the security concerns were chiefly directed to spectator behavior, such as the prevention of spectators from interfering with the event, or entering the stadium without a ticket. As an example of heightened concerns regarding terrorist activities, the organizers of the 2006 Major League Baseball All Star game held in Pittsburgh, utilized 100 trained bomb detection dogs as a part of an enhanced security program developed for the event.

SEE ALSO FIFA: World Cup Soccer; International Olympic Committee (IOC); Maccabiah Games.