If we stop playing sport have the terrorists won?
England is reportedly seriously considering pulling out of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in India in October because of fears its team will be targeted by Pakistani militants.
If it does pull the pin, it will be the first time England has not competed in the Games’ 80-year history - it’s potentially a very significant move. Presumably if the Brits pull out they won’t be the only ones - the whole Games could be in jeopardy.
Sport and geo-politics have always been inextricably linked, and sometimes this has resulted in great peril for the athletes. Images of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when Israeli athletes were taken hostage and then murdered by extremists with links to Fatah, are seared into our memories.
As are the terrible details of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan earlier this year.
It’s amazing to think an athlete, who’s gone somewhere to do something as positive as compete at the highest level, should become a target. But targets they are, and sporting authorities need to weigh up the risk.
According to London’s Daily Telegraph:
Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, visited the Indian capital earlier this month to inspect the Games sites and was said to have voiced “serious concerns” about the security arrangements.
Although a formal decision on England’s participation will not be taken until the new year, senior Whitehall sources told The Daily Telegraph that there was “virtually no chance” a team would be sent.
“If you are an English athlete there is no way you are going to want to risk your life competing at the Games. We currently cannot see any way that England will be able to send a team to Delhi next year,” said one source.
It’s something the Australian Cricket Board struggles with constantly, balancing the risk to our players against the positive impact of touring cricket-loving nations such as India and Pakistan.
What are the consequences of throwing up our hands and saying we simply can’t protect ourselves. Should we just give up trying to stage any international events on the sub-continent?
No sporting authority wants to put their players at risk, but its unlikely any of them want to be seen to be overreacting either.
Who knows how the athletes themselves feel about it at this stage. Anyone driven enough to make a Commonwealth Games team is going to be reluctant to give up the chance to have a go.
But it’s a weird world when 16-year-old simmers and 23-year-old archers find themselves on the front line of the war on terror. I don’t envy the people who have to decide how much risk a gold medal is worth, but I also don’t think we should give up too easily.
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