The Boston Marathon — one of Boston’s most treasured events, and usually a cause for personal celebration and community pride — became a scene of terror and bewilderment on Monday. Around 2:45 p.m., (about two hours after the race’s first runners completed the race) two bombs exploded just a few seconds apart near the Marathon’s finish line on Boylston Street. Casualties, so far, included as many as three deaths and approximately 138 people injured. Two more unexploded bombs were located by authorities. Officials and the media are referring to the blasts as acts of terrorism, although no group has claimed responsibility and there is no report of an official suspect.
While there is no known motive, it is not hard to understand why someone wishing to cause harm and draw attention would target a high-profile, heavily attended event. Sporting events provide a tantalizing target for terrorists, as they tend to draw large numbers of people who are preoccupied with the ongoings of the event. That said, terrorism at sporting events has been a relatively recent phenomenon, though there is a ssubstansive list of sports-related terror events:
1. The 1972 Munich Olympic Games Kidnappings
A Palestinian militant group called Black September took members of the Israeli Olympic contingent hostage, ultimately killing 11 of them and a West German policeman. Israeli security forces later assassinated several Black September members along with prominent Palestinian figures.
2. Centennial Olympic Park Bombing, Olympic Games (Atlanta, Georgia 1996)
Atlanta had built Centennial Olympic Park in its downtown as part of a building campaign leading to its hosting of the 1996 World Olympic Games. On July 27, two people were killed and over 100 injured by several bombs placed by Eric Robert Rudolph. Rudolph, a former military explosives expert, committed the bombings in an attempt to protest against abortion and what he perceived as the promotion of “global socialism.”
3. Cancellation of the Grand National in 1997
The year following the deadly attack at the Olympic Games, the United Kingdom’s biggest horse race, the Grand National, was temporarily cancelled due to bomb threats made by the Irish Republican Army.
4. Cancellation of 2008 Dakar Rally
The Dakar Rally is an annual cross-continental offroading race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal. The race was canceled in 2008 due to Al-Qaeda’s recent murder of four French tourists in Mauritania and criticism of the race as being, among other things, “neo-colonialist.”
5. Madrid Soccer Bombing, 2002
Following the arrest of 11 members of a Basque-area political party, members of militant Basque separatist group E.T.A. detonated a car bomb outside Madrid’s Bernabau stadium prior to a match between Real Madrid Barcelona.
6. Sri Lankan Cricket Team shooting, 2009
In 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was traveling to Pakistan for a tournament when they were ambushed on the road by a group linked to Al-Qaeda. Six of the team members, along with six policemen, were injured; two civilians were killed.
7. Boston Marathon bombings, 2013
As runners crossed the finish line at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, two explosions were detonated near the finish. The attack killed three and injured at least 140 on what was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration of athletic achievement.
As tragic and horrifying as all of these events are, they have occurred in a context in which we celebrate some of the best aspects of human nature. Discipline, vision, perseverance, teamwork, respect, the overcoming of obstacles, and solidarity are all prominent characteristics of sports. As we care for the victims and track down the perpetrators, may these guide our response, and let us all find inspirations in the actions of the runners, both those who ran the race and those who raced to care for the wounded.