As tragic as the events were that unfolded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, this was not the first time a major sporting event has been negatively impacted by an act of terrorism. In fact, this wasn’t even the first time a marathon had been impacted by an act of terrorism. All across the globe, sport unites and inspires. Thus, unfortunately, it will always be a target for evil people looking to inflict pain, division, and turmoil.
Today, while we remember and pray for all those still suffering as a result of the tragic bombings in Boston, let’s also remember some of the others who have suffered as the result of terrorist attacks on sporting events.
The Grand National is the most prestigious horse race in England and, with a prize in 2013 of $1.5 million, the most lucrative race in Europe. The steeplechase is normally run on the first Saturday in April; however, in 1997 the race was postponed for two days after two separate bomb threats were called in by the IRA. Fortunately no bombs were ever detonated, but police did have to evacuate 60,000 fans, jockeys, horses, and race track staff. And since the police obviously could not allow any cars to leave the premises, about 20,000 out-of-towners were left stranded and had to be taken in by local Liverpool residents.
9. Grand National Bomb Scare (1997)
In 2002, just a few hours before Real Madrid was to host arch rival Barcelona in a Champions League semifinal match, a car bomb exploded outside Madrid's famous Bernabéu Stadium. Fortunately only 17 people were injured by the blast and no one was killed, but one would have to think the bomb was supposed to go off as people were filing into the stadium. Eleven people were eventually arrested, all members of the Batasuna, a group linked to the Basque separatist group ETA.
UEFA allowed the game to go on as scheduled, by the way, which was a questionable decision. Luckily the game went down without a hitch.
8. Bombing at Bernabéu (2002)
The Iraqi Olympic team was the target of not one but three separate terrorist attacks in 2006. First, on May 17, 15 athletes and staff members of the taekwondo team were kidnapped while traveling to a competition in Jordan and never seen or heard from again. Then, on May 26, gunmen killed the Iraqi tennis coach and two players. And finally, on July 15, the head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee was kidnapped along with 37 athletes and officials. Only 13 of them were ever released.
7. Iraqi Olympic Team (2006)
The Togo national soccer team united their small West African nation by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time ever in 2006. Sadly, just four years later, this same team was attacked by terrorists while riding in their team bus en route to Angola for the Africa Cup of Nations. On January 8, 2010, a dozen heavily armed Angolan separatist guerillas opened fire on the bus, killing three people (none of them players) and wounding nine.
Obviously, the team did not end up competing in the competition.
6. Togo Soccer Team (2010)
Just under a year before the Togo national soccer team was attacked in Angola, the Sri Lankan national cricket team was targeted in a very similar attack in Pakistan. En route to a match against Pakistan, the team bus was ambushed by 12 gunmen outside the stadium in Lahore. Eight people were killed in the firefight (six police officers and two civilians) while nine others (six players, two staffers, and an umpire) were injured. It's believed a militant group associated with Al-Qaeda carried out the attack.
India had originally been scheduled to play the match, but they withdrew because of security concerns following the Mumbai bombings the previous year. The team from Sri Lanka agreed to take their place, but, sadly, India's fears proved to be well-founded.
5. Sri Lankan Cricket Team (2009)
The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 was not the first time a visiting cricket team had been attacked by terrorists inside Pakistan. On May 8, 2002, a suicide bomber struck the hotel where the New Zealand cricket team was staying during a tour of Pakistan. No New Zealand players were hurt, but the blast killed 14 people, including the host team's physiotherapist. The team obviously called off the tour and returned home.
4. New Zealand Cricket Team (2002)
On April 6, 2008, the world witnessed a bombing at a marathon far more deadly than the one witnessed in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013. At the start of the Sri Lankan New Years Marathon, a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber detonated an explosive device that killed 15 people, including a dozen athletes, and injured almost 100 others—all while spectators looked on in horror in person and on television.
3. Sri Lanka New Years Marathon (2008)
Until the 2013 Boston Marathon, this was the most famous act of terrorism inflicted on a sporting event held in the United States. On July 27, 1996, one week after the start of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park just after midnight during a free outdoor concert. Two people were killed—one directly from the explosion, another from a heart attack—and 120 others were injured.
The devastation could have been a whole lot worse had it not been for the actions of security guard Richard Jewell. He discovered the bomb just before detonation and managed to clear people from the area. Sadly, the hero was initially labeled as a suspect by the FBI and the media, but he was later completely exonerated.
The real perpetrator was a former U.S. Army explosives expert named Eric Rudolph. He believed that "the conception and purpose of the so-called Olympic movement is to promote the values of global socialism," so he decided to take matters into his own deranged hands.
2. Olympic Park Bombing (1996)
The worst act of terrorism ever perpetrated at a sporting event is the one carried at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich by Palestinian terrorist organization Black September. They stormed the athletes village on September 5 and took members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage. After a 16-hour standoff and a botched rescue attempt, the terrorists slaughtered 11 athletes and coaches plus one German police officer. The Games were temporarily suspended, and a memorial service was held on September 6. However, following the tragedy a number of Olympic contingents left Munich early—most notably the Israelis and the Egyptians, who feared reprisals.
Interestingly, the IOC President at the time, Avery Brundage, did not even mention the murdered athletes in his speech at the memorial service. This oversite foreshadowed another IOC blunder 40 years later in London, when the IOC decided not to do anything to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tragedy at the 2012 Summer Games.