After recent terror attacks in Belgium and Iraq and with Euro 2016 looming, Ciaran Breen asks whether football has the strength to continue as normal in the face of this threat and if so, whether that is necessarily for the best…
In light of the recent tragic events in Brussels and elsewhere, should football be afraid that it has become a target of choice for those wanting to make violent political statements and how should it respond?
On Tuesday night, France took to the field at the Stade de France to play their first home match since November’s attacks across Paris, which killed 130 people.
In advance of the 4-2 friendly win over Russia, coach of the Euro 2016 hosts, Didier Deschamps, admitted the events that transpired as France took on Germany in the same venue last year were still on players’ minds.
“You don’t forget but you have to move forward,” said the former World Cup winner and national team captain.
The man who currently wears the armband for Les Bleues, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was similarly forward-looking.
“We have to have confidence in the security officials,” said the Spurs stopper before the second of two friendlies. “We have to continue to live and to live our passion together; it’s important.”
France defeated the Netherlands 3-2 last Friday night in another emotion-laden game, after the death of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff.
Security has been ramped up at football matches across Europe since the Paris attacks and will be extremely tight at the European Championships in June. There are concerns the tournament could be the target of attacks, particularly due to the large gatherings of fans outside stadiums and in fan zones.
Speaking on the weekend, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that security provisions for the fan zones “will be guaranteed with the same measures and methods as in stadiums,” to ensure “the party can take place”.
The game at the Stade de France passed without incident but elsewhere, Belgium were forced to switch their home fixture against Portugal to Leiria after the airport and metro bombings in Brussels last week. The attacks in the Belgian capital killed 35 civillians.
Following the events in Brussels, Uefa revealed it has contingency plans in place for the Euros.
“We are confident that all security measures will be in place for a safe and festive Euros,” said Uefa spokesman Pedro Pinto.
Before watching his side win 2-1 against Belgium on Tuesday, Portugal coach Fernando Santos declared the fulfillment of the fixture was a show of football’s strength.
“The important thing is the signal this match gives, the signal is that football is not afraid, the people are not afraid,” said the former Greek national team coach.
So in essence, everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
The fans who have invested significant savings to travel to the tournament seem intent on going. Players and coaches have worked hard to qualify and smaller nations such as Wales and Northern Ireland are keen not to miss a chance on the big stage.
And as for Uefa, the cynic might say they would be loath to cancel the biggest money-spinner in their portfolio.
Meanwhile, on Saturday outside the Iraqi capital Baghdad, 32 people died when suicide bombings ripped through a trophy ceremony at a football stadium. Many of the victims were children lining up to receive their awards. Goalposts were left covered in blood in the aftermath.
The weekend before the Istanbul derby between Turkish sides Fenerbahce and Galatasaray was postponed after a security threat.
In this climate, it can be hard to find the fun in football, to imagine the party in the French streets.
Football and sports have never been beyond the scope of politics and it would be naive to think that football will not face further tragedy of this kind. But it appears the game is a juggernaut and stops for no one, bar respectful moments of silence at games.
Football is not afraid. I pray it is right to be so strong.
Read more from Ciarán here
You can follow Ciarán on Twitter @keep_score