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Friday, 21 April 2017

When terror and football meet

Dortmund's Gabonese forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (4th R) exits his team bus after it arrived under police escort at the Louis II stadium prior to the UEFA Champions League football match Monaco vs Dortmund on April 19 in Monaco. - AFP PHOTO

Dortmund's Gabonese forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (4th R) exits his team bus after it arrived under police escort at the Louis II stadium prior to the UEFA Champions League football match Monaco vs Dortmund on April 19 in Monaco. - AFP PHOTO

After the recent attack in Dortmund, security measures for football games both on the continent and across the Channel have reached almost intolerable levels. 

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” - Winston Churchill  

CHURCHILL’S famous quote was from a speech he made in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946, referencing what he saw as Soviet domination of Europe.

The great man was proven right because the Soviet Union’s aggression and annexation of large parts of Europe eventually led to the Cold War that only ended in the late 1980s with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But, while Russia continues to be belligerent, a new threat has emerged in the continent now, and yes, a new iron curtain has descended on Europe.

Terrorism has reared its ugly head and no country in Europe appears to be immune from its stranglehold.

From London to Stockholm, from Paris to Berlin, Nice to Brussels, terrorists, either lone wolfs or in groups, have struck, knifing, maiming, bombing and murdering hundreds of innocent people.

The latest terror attack, in Dortmund, mercifully ended with only one person injured.

The lack of deaths or victims means that it will probably be classified as a failed attack, but, the bombing of the Borussia Dortmund team bus points to a new, soft target for the terrorists – football – the players, the clubs and the fans.

Three explosive devices went off by the side of the bus carrying the Borussia Dortmund team heading for their Champions League quarter-final against Monaco last Tuesday night.

A fourth, undetonated device was found in the vicinity of the team hotel and police also discovered a letter near the scene of the blast, purportedly claiming the attack on behalf of the Islamic State (IS).

Subsequently, two suspected IS terrorists were arrested and interrogated, but recent reports from Dortmund seem to indicate that the bus attack may have been carried out by right-wing extremists who attempted to frame IS.

Investigators are currently examining leads that point to neo-Nazi perpetrators.

Regardless of who these extremists are, the top football clubs in Europe have been on high alert since the attack. There were unpre-cedented levels of security around Manchester United’s clash last week with Anderlecht in Brussels.

Bomb spotters flanked by armed troops trawled under the team bus before it left the city hotel for the stadium and a decoy bus was sent on ahead.

The actual bus was escorted into the stadium by police and fans were barred from bringing any sort of bags into the stadium. Brussels has seen its share of terror attacks, and police were not taking any risks.

In the United Kingdom, where I’ve been this past week, the Dortmund attack has had a chilling effect. The top Premier league clubs have all stepped up their security.

I was fortunate enough to catch the big clash between Manchester United and Chelsea over the weekend, and while the actual match itself was enjoyable, getting into Old Trafford was a major headache.

It should be noted that the club was the first in the UK to hire a counter-terrorism chief earlier this year. The appointment followed a bomb scare last year and increasing concerns over security at the world-famous stadium.

The result is that security has been ratcheted up to almost intolerable levels.

There are now security checks in place almost a kilometre from the stadium. Bomb detectors are used on every car that is parked in the vicinity of the stadium and fans are checked twice, once about 800m from Old Trafford and the second time before you actually enter the stadium.

In both instances, fans are scanned and patted down. Fans lucky enough to be in corporate boxes are required to be at the stadium no later than two hours, 45 minutes before kick-off.

And once you’re in, you’re not allowed out again until after the match has ended. Just a few hours before the match, police, on heightened alert after the Dortmund blast, forced the visiting Chelsea team to use the back entrance of their Radisson Manchester hotel.

But that now appears to be the reality of daily life in Europe. We used to take going to a football match for granted.

Back then crowd control was to weed out the hooligans, but now it’s for something far more sinister. This is Europe right now, with the constant, menacing threat of another terrorist attack becoming part of daily routine.

The writer believes that the threat of terror attacks has already led to a disconnect between the players and the fans. You can no longer get ‘up close’ to your favourite player. Any engagement now is via social media.

Tags / Keywords: Brian Martin , columnist

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