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How Football Can Fight Terrorism

Pic: Reuters
With the deadly attacks in Paris and in Beirut in November still in the headlines, it is easy to concentrate on the problems, not on solutions. Even as we mourn for the victims of these crimes, and question the justification for such acts, let us not lose sight of the fact that humanity, for all its apparent hatred and evil, is also imbued with the ability to make peace and find love.

And sport is one of the most powerful means of realising these positives.

The evidence for this is, to some extent, embedded within the acts of terrorism themselves. For decades, terror groups have targetted major sporting events for their campaigns. It is no shock, in historical terms, for instance, that the terrorists behind the Paris attacks honed in on the Stade de France where a friendly football match between France and Germany was being played. This simply follows a pattern that has existed since at least the murders of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The reason for hitting sports events is telling and offers, paradoxically perhaps, a focal point for facing down these acts of needless violence.

Sports venues are one of the most common places for peaceful social gathering we have in contemporary society. Take football for instance. Any game between a national team from pretty much any country in the world and another national team of a similarly random location, at any time, would likely draw a large crowd of interested, passionate, engaged fans.

In almost all cases, there would be people from either of those countries, many of whom would be nationalists in broad terms and parochial supporters of their national colours.

Yet, in the vast majority of games, there would be no violence, no bloodshed and no assaults on human sensibility. Well, in the stands at least; the players may cheat, lie, abuse each other and try and win at all costs, but most fans know that the lines defining the pitch also define where that kind of rubbish ends and that what goes on out there is just part of the theatre. Few – and I mean few – football games end in pitched battles because the players know what those lines mean too.

The point is football can get a group of disparate people, fervidly backing their cause without going to war. Despite millions of games over more than a century, I don't believe there is one case a game has degenerated into war or terrorism (although games have sometimes reflected wider events and/or have been used for political ends).

You can see why terrorists would want to target such events. They flip their demented world-view and their deranged agendas on their head. To attack sporting events is to attack the power and influence of sport to unite and to gather people from all walks of life, from all classes and locations in a moment of defined peace and mutual respect. This balance has to be disabled for violence to have any chance of winning.

Even worse from a terrorists point of view is when people from different cultures, religions, places or ethnic groups get together and play some games between themselves. In doing so, even on a small scale, normal people will get to interact in a shared space, and to compete not in war but in sport, in a way that is sanctioned and ultimately friendly.

All of which means that the power of sport must be brought to bear on the current wave of terror attacks. Already, we have seen major sports, like the EPL, taking actions that aim to show solidarity with French and Parisian victims of terror.

But, the moment needs more and it's up to us.

There are approximately 3.5 billion football fans around the world. That's almost 1 out of every 2 people on the planet. Take a look at people walking down any street and imagine that every second one is a football fan.

There are hundreds of millions who are fit enough and willing enough to lace up a pair of sneakers or boots or to go barefoot and get out there and get a kick about game going.

So, you want to fight terrorism? You want to bring peace to the world? You want to make your world safe for your kids? You could do worse, much worse, than to gather some mates, ask them to get some mates, invite some of those whom you don't known so well, maybe because they speak another language or follow another religion, and get a game going.

Imagine that every time you do that, a terrorist impulse dies, an act of violence is forestalled, a moment of madness is still-born. Imagine that every time a sporting event, big or small, is held anywhere in the world, and nothing but smiles and handshakes break out, that terrorism dies a little more.

The solutions is in our hands. And at our feet. Game on.  


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