On 11 April 2017 the team bus carrying German football club Borussia Dortmund to their Champions League tie with French side AS Monaco came under attack. Thankfully, the team escaped generally unscathed (the notable exception being Marc Bartra who required surgery), but—as the Telegraph notes—this was a serious attack:
Islamist terrorists came within a hair’s breadth of massacring one of Europe’s top football teams when they detonated three bombs close to a team bus, German authorities have revealed. The three devices which exploded next to Borussia Dortmund’s coach were studded with metal shrapnel and pins, one of which pierced a window and embedded itself in a head rest. The blast, which injured a player and a policeman, had a radius of more than 100 yards and federal prosecutors said it was lucky the toll was not more severe.
Some Damage to the Team Bus (Top) and Police Officers Stand Watch Outside Dortmund’s Stadium (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/12/borussia-dortmund-bus-bombing-police-probe-islamist-letter-referring/
Borussia Dortmund’s Team Bus Guarded by Police (Top) and a Close-Up Shows the Extent of the Damage (Bottom). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4402644/Borussia-Dortmund-team-bus-hit-explosion.html
The Daily Mail and the Financial Times also cite an Islamist motive for the attack. According to a spokeswoman for Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office: “We found several letters of responsibility. It appears that a possible Islamist motive is indeed possible. Among other things they demand the withdrawal of [German] tornado fighter jets from Syria and, I quote, ‘the closure of Ramstein airbase’ [Author’s Note: Where drone operations against targets in the Middle East are controlled from].” Despite statements like this, authorities still point out that it is not certain that this was an Islamist attack and on 14 April 2017 the BBC reported that there is “significant doubt” that the attack was the work of Islamists.
What makes this case strange is that German fans do not have a reputation for this kind of brutality (directed at teams). The fact that this attack came before a Champions League match—and not a domestic match—makes it even more unlikely that this attack was perpetrated by a rival fan group. An Islamist motive is certainly possible (and I have written about Islamist attacks on football targets previously) but it is also possible that—in an interesting twist—this attack may have meant to misdirect security forces by tricking them into thinking it was an Islamist attack. Either way, security services the world over would do well to recognize that football—given its immense popularity—is a prime target for terrorism of all stripes.
Dortmund and Monaco Fans Side By Side. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-39576904
Despite the confusion, it is not all doom and gloom. Fans of Borussia Dortmund kindly opened up their homes to visiting fans from Monaco with the hashtag #bedforawayfans. The BBC did a nice piece on how Dortmund fans hosted their French visitors in a kind display of solidarity in the face of senseless violence. I can only hope that Dortmund fans would have shown the same consideration had their opponent on the day been from a non-Western European country, like Turkey, where the fans of Turkish side Besiktas Tweeted their condolences to Borussia Dortmund by acknowledging that terrorism like this affects everyone equally, whether in Western Europe or elsewhere. In the Middle East there was support for Dortmund as well, as Iraqi sides Al Zawra’a and Naft al-Wasat showed solidarity before their match on 14 April 2017.
Besiktas Shows Their Support to Borussia Dortmund. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas
Iraqi Football Sends a Message in German and Arabic. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4412072/Dortmund-attack-condemned-ahead-Iraqi-game.html
While football sometimes divides people, it is important to note that football can also serve as a way to unite people from different backgrounds. Whether it is by responding to terrorism or to rising ticket prices and the trend towards industrial football, fans can use their power to send messages that transcend national boundaries without succumbing to a homogenized “global” culture. Football fans show that local cultures can still be emphasized even when taking part in global processes like sport.