Death at the Boston Marathon

Sport is about bringing people together and making us feel good about the world we live in.  Yesterday in Boston, the essence of sport was attacked as bomb blasts rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon, claiming what is at present thought to be three lives and injuring over 100, many of them through loss of limbs.

Boston Marathon Explosion

Reports now from the US suggest that among the dead is an eight year old boy, who was waiting near the finish to see his Dad cross the line.

Terror thrives on the fear of what might happen.  It does not need to kill or maim every time, just enough to make people afraid of what could happen.

Sport has never been immune to the threat and execution of such acts.  The massacre of Israeli Olympians in 1972, a bomb blast at Atlanta in 1996 and a bomb at the start of a marathon in Sri Lanka in 2009 which killed 15 are three that stand out as having caused death and carnage.

Bomb threats at events can cause massive disruption and fear without maiming, as was the case at the Aintree Grand National in 1997, an event I was involved at, and which terror I witnessed at first hand in the eyes of people working and playing at a mass gathering based on celebration of achievement.

Because of its international reach and cultural dominance, what happens in the US has a stronger impact on the way we live our lives than might be the case anywhere else.

Airline passengers always had security restrictions but it was the 9/11 attacks on New York that forced the still heightened measures we have today concerning liquids, computers, shoes and so much more.

People get by and understand the need for security but it becomes a less pleasant experience.  We must prepare now for a similar crackdown on major sports gatherings that we attend here in Ireland and overseas.

Over 100 Irish runners were registered as competing in Boston.  Our thoughts are with them and their families who will be worried at what might have happened.

50,000 will gather at the Aviva Stadium next month for the Heineken Cup Final, over 40,000  in June for the Flora Women’s mini marathon and over 80,000 at Croke Park for the All Ireland Finals.

There is no doubt that security at these events  will be different now to what it might have been beforehand.  There will be new restrictions and greater search of spectators and people who will line the route of next weekend’s Marathon in London.

The same will now be true of any mass gathering.  We must recognise that few things other than sport have the power to draw people to what is a place of heroism for most, and a target for the twisted few.

We need to support the security forces that will have to deal with this new heightened sense of danger, comply with what will at times seem ridiculous demands, turn up earlier than we would have and be more aware of what is happening around us.

Those are small prices to pay for our ability to gather and celebrate achievement, to prove in our doing that we will not be bowed by terror.

And if you find the queues frustrating stop and think of the mother of the eight year old boy in Boston, who herself is in hospital with his Sister, and the Father who will forever be tortured by the fact that they were there to proudly see him achieve something special.

Sport is a celebration.  It will remain so.  But from today it will be different.

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