In Good Conscience

Life goes on in the face of terrorism, should sports?

"I know football is very important, we love football and and we suffer with football. I know we earn a lot of money and we have a privileged life, but we are human beings. There is so much more than football in this world, and last night we felt it."

Long after three crude, apparently home-made bombs targeted the Borussia Dortmund bus last Tuesday, those words from Nuri Sahin put us as close as we might wish to get inside the skin of those on that bus.

Sahin, born in Germany to Turkish parents, said he did not realise what he had happened until he arrived home that night, and saw his wife and five-year-old son Omer waiting outside the front door.

His life flashed before him. "There is so much more than football..."

By that time, however, Uefa had already declared that the game goes ahead. Only one player, Dortmund's Spanish defender Marc Bartra, was in hospital. His injuries were not life threatening.

So play on. Don't give succor to the terrorists, whoever they are.

Uefa gave it 24 hours for the dust to settle. Rather less in fact because, not wanting to compromise Wednesday's TV schedule (in particular Bayern Munich versus Real Madrid), the good people of Dortmund and the players of both Borussia and Monaco were asked to play two hours ahead of the regular Uefa Champions League time.


A Borussia Dortmund fan holds up a scarf during the Champions League quarter-final first-leg clash between the German club and Monaco. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

I know of no-one who thinks sport, indeed life, should be abandoned to the threat of terror. Defiance has been the motto ever since the 1972 Munich Olympics when, again within 24 hours of the Black September Palestinian slaying of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and one German policeman, the Games re-commenced. That was the first violation of sports by the bombs or the bullets of those who deem anything and everything as legitimate targets in their wars.

Avery Brundage, the American president of the International Olympic Committee at the time, said it unequivocally. He and his committee gave it 24 hours to clear away the bodies and get on with the Games.

Defiance has been the motto ever since the 1972 Munich Olympics when, again within 24 hours of the Black September Palestinian slaying of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and one German policeman, the Games re-commenced.

Like most people, I'm torn by this recurring threat to sport, to life.

There was the carnage when Sri Lanka's cricket team was ambushed in Pakistan eight years ago. There was England's team guarded by two thousand militia as they toured Bangladesh last year.

There was Uefa, again, insisting Euro 2016 goes ahead in 10 stadiums despite France still being at full stretch after the Paris atrocities of the previous winter.

Sports reflect life. And football remarkably demonstrates how people of all faiths can play side by side.

Riyad Mahrez, an Algerian and a Muslim, won the English Player of the Year title last season for his displays with Leicester City.

N'Golo Kante, a fellow Muslim who left Leicester to join Chelsea last summer, is odds on to be the Professional Footballers' Association player of 2016-17.

We have come a long way since anyone questioned the race, religion or colour of players in Europe's major leagues. Skill, and compatibility to play together, is the overriding factor, and long may that be so.

However, nobody, least of all the German security forces, seems to know who attempted to blow up the Dortmund bus, or why.

By Friday, long after the game had been played at the Westfalenstadion, all that we knew was that there was more than one claim to responsibility.

Police appeared to dismiss a left wing group stating that it was their work. A second letter found near the scene of the blasts is being taken more seriously.

It called for the withdrawal of German fighter jets from the Syrian conflict, and the closure of a United States air base in Germany. Reports suggest the letter stipulated that this was "in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful".

Police found shrapnel embedded in the headrests where the players were seated. Had those players not dived to the floor the instant they heard the first bang, it is likely that far more than the broken wrist and flesh wounds suffered by Bartra would have happened.

Sahin, once more, put that into perspective.

"I get goosebumps," he said on the Swedish TV channel Viasat Fotboll after the game. "I will never in my life forget what I saw in the faces on that bus."

Sahin, to repeat, regards himself as Turkish. And he could relate the feelings to watching on television the massacre of innocent people celebrating New Year's Eve at a nightclub in Istanbul.

He was speaking, in perfect English, to the former Norwegian international forward Jan Aage Fjortoft on a Scandinavian satellite TV station.

The faces belonged to players from 13 different nations, from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.

When the match did take place, Jurgen Klopp, the former Dortmund coach now at Liverpool, looked on through television.

"I saw the faces of my former players," Klopp said. "And I saw the shock in their eyes. It will take time to deal with it."

Time is unavailable. Dortmund fell two goals down in the first half, and despite coming back, lost 3-2 to the young Monaco side that has already knocked Manchester City out of this Champions League.

"We were not consulted," said Thomas Tuchel, Borussia's coach. "We were informed by SMS that Uefa had decided in Switzerland. We were treated as if a beer can had hit our bus."

Uefa insist that both teams were ready to play.

Tuchel told his players: "If you want to talk about it, talk. If you want to be silent, be silent. If you need a hug, I'll hug you. Or find someone at home that hugs you."

The one thing he wanted was time. Time to understand who, why, how his team was targeted. Time to build themselves back up for a quarter-final in the Champions League.

The schedules are overcrowded as it is. Bomb stops play is not a valid excuse to further delay.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Life goes on in the face of terrorism, should sports?'. Print Edition | Subscribe