Mass defiance on the football terraces will win the day against terrorists
Playing Euro 2016 games behind closed doors would hand victory to the fanatics who bombed Brussels
Uefa executive committee vice-president Giancarlo Abete’s response to the horrific Brussels attacks was music to the ears of terrorists.
Abete said drastic security measures for Euro 2016 could include playing games behind closed doors in the wake of the bomb attacks in Belgium that left at least 31 people dead and 270 more injured.
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill concurred, saying shutting doors to fans would be acceptable if it was the best solution to guarantee safety.
Both men’s words were well intentioned but misguided. To play games in shuttered stadiums during one of the world’s most popular tournaments would hand victory to the terrorists.
More to the point, denying supporters the freedom to watch their sport live won’t save them from the terrorists’ bomb, or bullet, or the fear from both.
The murdering fanatics’ aim – other than to generate mass media attention – is to disrupt and disable the free, democratic, secular and sport-loving societies they so despise.
Cowering communities peeping from behind curtains and watching sport timidly and obediently at home on TV would be a triumph for them.
Contrary to shutting them out, Euro 2016 with hundreds and thousands singing and cheering on the terraces in the face of fear will serve as a potent weapon against the killers’ twisted ideology.
The spectre of suicide bombers striking during a game or in fan zones or at transport hubs does not deter. Instead, it stiffens the resolve among supporters planning on travelling to France and encourages many more to join them.
This is not about safety in numbers. This is about staging a moral and just act of mass defiance, a contumacious square-up to the bloodthirsty cowards.
That maniacal fundamentalists or a crazed lone wolf plan to strike a sports event in the future is a given. The Olympics, cricket, football and marathons have all been targeted in the past and will, tragically, likely be again.
We can but only hope that the security forces do their best and such horrors remain rare.
Those of us living in Europe’s major cities accept our streets can be turned into war zones without warning, lives lost and maimed in the blink of an eye while citizens on more fractious continents expect such attacks as they do the sun to rise.
Trying to wipe terrorism off the face of the earth is as futile as trying to eat soup with chopsticks. Trying to sooth or address the rage that causes terrorism is a worthwhile quest, as is starving terror groups of the oxygen of publicity and deploying the best security available.
But it is public acts of defiance that remain the most effective aegis and which will win the day. Refusing to recoil in the fear will undermine the appeal of the death cults among their naive members and would-be recruits.
Players and supporters play a crucial part in this righteous battle by carrying on regardless, by overcoming fear and playing and watching sport as usual, with chins up, chests out, proudly and defiantly standing tall, shoulder to shoulder.
Belgium’s national team manager Marc Wilmots agreed. He wanted this Tuesday’s Euro 2016 warm-up friendly against Portugal in Brussels to go ahead as planned.
Wilmots is among those of us who refuse to live in fear and said Belgian and Portuguese fans standing together at the King Baudouin Stadium would have shown solidarity. But the Brussels authorities said no and the fixture has been moved to Leiria in Portugal.
This is a mistake. Many brave Belgians took to the streets and banded and sung together a day after Tuesday’s attacks. They would have welcomed the opportunity to do so at a football game.
Because the images of fans on terraces beamed to the world are by far a more potent weapon in the psychological war than the scenes of shattered bodies and buildings, streets panicked by blue flashing lights and sprinting, ducking nervous armed police and soldiers.
Of course, fans should be protected should intelligence unearth a terrorist plot to attack a Euro group
game in France. Postponing the game or moving the venue would be acceptable – but cancellation or barricading the gates must be resisted.
Closed stadium doors would be a feeble gesture at best, a white flag at worst.
Turning fans away from stadiums will not make them any safer. It will certainly not stop terrorists.
Thankfully, Uefa dismissed Abete’s claim, saying as of now there are no plans to play any of the Euro games in empty stadiums. And French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said it is “vital” they go ahead to show France and Europe will not be cowed.
Big sporting and cultural events were vital to show that “we are a free people standing on our feet, that we’re not scared”, he said.
The Tour de France cycling classic will also take place, as will the French Open tennis in May and the Paris Marathon next weekend.
These events, Valls said, were “a strength for our democracy” and show that “life is the best answer to this ideology of death”.
Sports fans second that. We shall be in France in June no matter how many attacks, how many deaths or how much fear is spread. As the defiant terrace anthem states: we shall not be moved.