x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Boston Marathon bombings will not deter most sports fans from attending events

As futurologists proclaim the terror attacks will scare off supporters, Mike Tierney considers what bearing, if any, will the Boston Marathon bombing will really have on sports events in the USA.

Flowers and tributes left at the site of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Flowers and tributes left at the site of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The NCAA basketball championship game had just ended last week when a blast of confetti cannons rattled the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which was stuffed with 75,000 souls exhausted from witnessing the sort of riveting sports event that enhances our existence.

Startled, I flinched in my midlevel seat. Winning coach Rick Pitino's reaction on the court was more pronounced. He instinctively ducked for cover.

In these volatile times, many Americans are programmed to assume the worst about any sound resembling an explosion. For Pitino, a self-assured man at the peak of his profession, there is good reason. His best friend, also a brother-in-law, perished in the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11 2001.

The latest interruption of our tranquillity by what US authorities have called a terrorist attack occurred Monday, one week after the basketball false alarm. Two bombs hidden near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, our oldest and grandest road race, ended three lives and flipped scores of others upside-down.

It was the closest large-scale strike yet against the United States' sports foundation, surpassing the detonation that caused one fatality and injured 100-plus outdoor concert-goers at the 1996 Summer Olympics — barely a block from the Georgia Dome.

Besides the obvious questions regarding the Marathon nightmare — Who? Why? — there are these:

Will the target of this madness lessen the degree to which sports is embedded in American society?

More specifically, will devotees of games. meets, matches and races be more inclined to watch from the comfort and safety of their couches?

As the 21st century neared, I read a head-scratching prediction by an acclaimed "futurist," which is someone who can foretell trends well before they occur even as the weather person is hit-and-miss on rain versus shine three days in advance.

The popularity of spectator sports, she asserted, would decline.

My reaction: Really? (Spoken sarcastically.)

So far, her crystal ball has proved big-time blurry. Allegiances to specific sports might have shifted. As a whole, though, they still rank among the chart-toppers for entertainment.

Not even the most clairvoyant futurist then could have imagined the threat of further attacks that darkens our days. But if sports can withstand outrageous ticket and concession prices, performance-boosting drugs, player strikes and owner lockouts, they will forge on in the face of heightened risk to crowds.

To many types of crowds, that is.

Enter most stadiums and arenas nowadays, and subject yourself to pat-downs or emptied pockets or metal detectors. Or all of the above. Security crews conduct sweeps before events, then patrol as they unfold. Video cameras provide further deterrence to villainous behaviour.

No structure can be fully sealed, but the contained facilities that house games even as high-profile as a Super Bowl offer shelter sufficient enough to put most patrons at ease.

It is the open-spaced competitions that I worry about, especially ones like Monday's marathon, where participants and spectators mix on long stretches of road that cannot be thoroughly policed without stifling the sense of freedom that accompanies these happenings.

My town of Atlanta is home to the Peachtree Road Race, the world's largest organised 10-kilometre run, with 60,000 entrants. That it takes place on the nation's Independence Day, when patriotism is on full display, could make it more vulnerable to evil-doers.

My nerves will rise above a low boil this Fourth of July, and probably all others. Please let the pop and flash be nothing more than the fireworks that light up our lives on the midsummer holiday.

I fret, too, about our bedrock experiences such as the approaching Kentucky Derby. And the Indianapolis 500, linked as it is to a holiday weekend in which deceased soldiers are memorialised. With their multitude of fans spread out on sprawling grounds, these sporting gems can never be impregnable.

Further, the blanket of security becomes thinner as the scope broadens to include parking lots, public transportation, hotels ...

Still, I suspect most of us will get our backs up and do what citizens of other nations exposed to the same thing do. Which is, go about our business, while taking reasonable precautions.

If the lure of our most beloved sports subsides, I am more inclined to associate it with the joy of staring at athletes on our super-sized, high-def TV screens. Or with refrigerators stocked with affordable goodies just a few strides away. Or with the excessive hours in our time-compressed lives that we must commit to view in person..

Here is hoping that we can tamp down our skittishness, as Rick Pitino did when he quickly regained his calm.

And that nothing will transpire to change the scene in my crystal ball.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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