Terrorism and the Olympics: Facts and lessons for the future


Three days after the World Cup tournament in Russia kicked off, eight people were mown down and injured in a horrific incident which took place in the center of the Russian capital, Moscow. This once again brought the issue of potential threats facing major sport events to the fore. At the time no official statement was issued calling the incident an act of terror, however it was preceded by threats by Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) that terrorist attacks would be carried out in Russia during the tournament. The bombing of a bus carrying a team in Russia on April 11 was an act of terror that followed the same pattern.

Major sports events such as the World Cup are potential targets for terrorist attacks, due to the inflow of hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world, as well as the negative impact that goes beyond the event itself to the defamation of the host country. We all remember the 2009 terrorist attack on the Lahore Cricket Stadium in Pakistan, which resulted in Pakistan unjustifiably and unreasonably being labeled the “terrorist capital of the world”. This caused other countries to view Pakistan as a terrorist outpost. Moreover, Pakistan, which is the home of the world’s cricket champions, was banned from hosting international cricket events for over eight years, thereby irreparably damaging its sporting reputation.

The escalation of terrorist attacks on major sports events has had a significant negative impact in many respects. For example, all countries insist that the host country ensures the safety and security of players and officials, which has increased the cost of hosting such competitions. This has discouraged poorer countries from investing in sports activities, thus depriving them of the joy of competing with other countries. In addition, the number of spectators in stadiums has decreased as people prefer to stay at home for fear of risking their lives, and this has affected the local economy of host countries and in turn has led to a large increase in the cost of maintaining sports facilities. Consequently, governments have largely resisted investing in new venues or improving existing ones.

I think the major challenge facing countries regarding the security threat to sports activities is to work creatively and proactively, and to think outside the box to find solutions that are simple and effective, in order to ensure the safety of sports fans and sports venues and activities. A clear message has to be sent that sports activities can be held anywhere, with large or small audiences that can enjoy, relax, appreciate and cheer without fear for their safety. Meeting the security threat is not only the responsibility and concern of the host country; it is also the responsibility of every country or nation that loves sport. Our security lies in confronting threats together; what affects one nation affects all nations.

— Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Ibrahim.othaimin@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin