This past September I had the privilege to attend the 2013 Jeux de la Francophonie in Nice, France. The games are a combination of artistic and sporting events, and 55 countries attended in 2013. I had the good fortune of placing 3rd in my weight category, which I think is great, but I considered the games much smaller in scope compared to other “Mega Events”.
However, the security was extraordinary at the games. Armed soldiers patrolled the streets, entire rail lines and highways leading into the heart of the city were shut down, and cameras everywhere were documenting every second. During the event we were informed that security was tightening because of the rise in threat level. Participants from African nations were “disappearing”. Chances are that they were most likely defecting, but the mission staff could not rule out that the causes was more malevolent.
The large scale security of the event made me ponder a question I’ve had many times in the past while attending other sporting events: “Why is Sport the target for Terrorism?”
After further research I can now offer up two explanations why sporting events are desired targets of aggression.
First sporting events are highly viewed spectacles. Mega-events are high-profile, deeply symbolic affairs. These events generate a global audience through intense media coverage. For example, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China was broadcast in 220 countries. Another example is the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which more than 3.2 billion people, or 46.4 percent of the world population, watched live coverage for a minimum of one minute. Individuals and groups see these events as opportunities to make a statement for the same reason advertisers seek commercial space at mega events: viewership.
The second reason these media-saturated events are targeted by extremist is because of the large gathering of crowds creates a climate for political opportunism. Both state and social movements can draw viewers from the spectacles of the International sport to the arena of their choosing, and sway public opinion.
Governments use sport as a ring for national and global politics. Political capital and social prestige is to be gained by hosting, attending, and being successful at the Games. This is because success is linked with the promotion of a nation’s brand image. This is illustrated by the ambition of the British government was to use the 2012 Olympics to promote British culture at home and abroad. According to the article Britain’s mission was to project an image of a ‘modern Britain … open (welcoming, diverse, tolerant), connected (through our involvement in the UN and G20, politically, geographically, in terms of trade and travel), creative, and dynamic. Governments also use Mega Events to exert leverage on specific issues. For example, Presidents George W. Bush’s threat to boycott the Beijing opening ceremony due to Tibet, or Western Leaders skipping the events Sochi’s due to Russia’s Anti-Gay laws, and later the incursion into Ukraine.
Groups and individuals also harnessed sport’s global audience for protest activity. This happened at the 2010 Winter Olympics Vancouver with the anti-poverty campaigners (Heart Attack) and the Free Tibet protests in Beijing during the 2008 Games. Most have been (relatively) peaceful, with little or no impact on the delivery of the Games themselves, but there have been numerous examples of extremism with both domestic and international terrorist groups. In fact, for the 2012 Olympics, the UK security services believed that the most serious security threats emanate from militant individuals or groups, including Al Qaida, their associated networks, and those who share Al Qaida’s ideology but do not have direct contact with them, or domestic terrorist related to Northern Ireland, chiefly from Republican terrorist groups.
With so many individuals attention grasped by a single sporting event, Governments have gone to great lengths to secure their interests. This means incurring huge expenditures in security, which has created a culture of risk aversion. This raises further questions such as whether security becoming a bigger spectacle then the sporting event, and what trends does the future hold for security of sport.
The answers to these questions can be found on my Blog: http://tommacrae.blogspot.ca/
Houlihan, B., & Giulianotti, R. (2012). Politics and the London 2012 Olympics: the (in)security Games. International Affairs, 701–717.