From flour bombs to rockets: sports caught in the middle

March 4th, 2009 - 1:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Hamburg, March 4 (DPA) Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore is just the latest in a string of incidents catching sports in political turmoil.

The most extreme case occurred in 1972, when eight members of the militant Black September group attacked Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, taking them hostage.

After a botched rescue attempt by German security personnel at a Munich airport 11 Israeli athletes (some were killed before the rescue attempt), a German police officer and five of the attackers were dead.

The three surviving attackers were imprisoned in Germany and later released by the German government in exchange for the release of a hijacked Lufthansa airline and the hostages on board.

But while the Munich massacre was by far the most extreme case, there have been several others where athletes have been caught in the crossfire of political turmoil.

One of the main battlefields of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was the sporting arena and there were dozens of incidents were individual athletes or teams were targeted.

South African middle distance runner Zola Budd, who controversially, was given British citizenship overnight to enable her to compete internationally for England at the hight of apartheid, frequently had to dodge protesters as she ran her races.

As the struggle against apartheid intensified, several teams and individuals refused to participate in South Africa or against South Africans.

An ill-fated tour by the South African national rugby team to New Zealand in 1981 saw the Springboks being bombarded with flour bombs from a low-flying light plane during the final test. Two of the tour matches had been cancelled earlier.

Five years earlier rugby ties between New Zealand and apartheid South Africa had caused 28 African nations, as well as Iraq and Guyana, to boycott the Montreal Olympics.

As the African countries had - until the last moment - tried to get the International Olympic Committee to ban New Zealand from competing in Montreal, African countries only withdrew after the first day, which resulted in a few countries withdrawing after having already competed in some events.

The Moscow Olympics four years later saw close to 50 countries, including the US and several European countries, pulling out to protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The exact number of countries that boycotted is not known as some of those claiming to be boycotting withdrew for financial reasons.

In retaliation to the boycott four years earlier, the Soviet Union, as well as several of their allies refused to participate in the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

In 1996 a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Olympics. Officials at first named the security guard who discovered the bomb as a suspect, but later issued an arrest warrant against Eric Rudolph, who was finally apprehended in 2003.

In a statement the raving anti-abortionist Rudolph read after pleading guilty, he said that he had been hoping to embarrass the US government for its stance on abortion.

“The plan was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested,” he said.

The Olympics have also been subject to two failed boycott attempts.

Several politicians, organisations and activists called for boycotts of the 1936 and 2008 Olympics, held in Berlin and Beijing respectively, but failed to convince any country to follow their calls.

Last year a conflict in Georgia resulted in the Georgian government, as well as two American politicians called on the IOC to take the 2014 Winter Olympics away from the Russian city of Sochi.

At the time the IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies issued a statement in which she said that it was too early to make judgements how an event six years later would be affected by events taking place now.

She added that the IOC was of the belief that the Olympics games are “not a tool to be used by politicians”.

Last month Israeli tennis professional Shahar Peer was denied the opportunity to participate in the Barclays Championships in Dubai, when she was denied her a visa to visit the country by the Dubai government.

The attack in Lahore will undoubtedly renew the debate whether sports and politics should be mixed.

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