Geographically Lahore is many miles from these shores but the events of Tuesday 3 March have brought terrorism painfully close to home. The ex-Patriot Pakistani community in the UK and those born here of Pakistani origins are perhaps the most affected as they have immediate family to be concerned about – not that in most of the reporting I’ve heard and read over the last few days has any mention of them been made – but the sporting world and the cricket world in particular has been shaken to its roots. And will never be the same.
Sport in general has felt itself immune from attack. The belief that sport exists to bring people together and celebrate life is inherent in fans. We may indulge in “hating” the opposition, but very seldom does that mean actually wishing harm or bad fortune on any team.
Cricket especially so. Support for one’s own side is of course paramount, but fans are unanimous in appreciating the skills of opponents. A batsman making 50 or a century is applauded by all, as is a bowler getting a five-fer. When one’s side is beaten, the phrase universally used is “the best side won on the day”. Very rarely are excuses made for the losing side, and blaming the umpires for defeat is just not done.
This may be why an attack on cricket has become such a news monster. Former England captain, Michael Atherton writes in the Times and mentions how cricketers have accidentally been caught up in events of global terrorism, but on those occasions, no headlines involved the sportsmen.
Bronwen Maddox, also in the Times, notes the five most recent terror attacks in Pakistan, none of which, although more people died, attracted as many column inches and headlines as the latest attack.
So here is the horrible question that faces sport now: is it now a viable and worthwhile target for terrorism?
If what the terrorists want is publicity and a change in behaviour of the targets, then those behind the attack in Lahore must be feeling pretty smug already. The world has focussed on their activities and the international cricket community has said, fairly definitively, that they will no longer play in Pakistan.
The fact that the head of the Pakistan Cricket Board feels able to go on air and criticise comments made by match referee Chris Broad shows how defensive the authorities in Pakistan are, and also how much in denial. Sadly his remarks – that Broad is inaccurate in his reporting of events – also show that the authorities are concentrating less on where they have failed and more on what overseas media are reporting.
There is a serious suggestion, Giles Clarke head of the ECB, is said to be considering it, that Pakistan will come to England to play their international cricket. Peter Young of Cricket Australia has added his voice:
While many on these shores would welcome the addition of more international cricket being played in the UK – and the thought of Australia v Pakistan here is indeed exciting (and not just for fans, I wouldn’t mind betting that the ECB are rubbing their financial hands with glee at the thought of selling out Old Trafford and Headingley amongst other grounds) - one wonders what the price in security would be.
If sport is no longer immune from terrorist attacks, will it matter whether games are played on the Sub-Continent, in neutral territory such as Dubai or England – where we have already seen hideous and successful terrorism in London in 2005 (when the cricketers of Australia and England were playing a Test Match in Leeds).
A can of worms has been opened, an evil genie let out of the bottle.
Sport can never be the same again, not for those playing the games, those running the games and not for fans.
An age of innocence that we have basked in since Munich 1972 is over, my friends.