Till yesterday, to most of us involved in the business of sport, Munich 1972 was a bit of history. A savage, brutal, shameful part of history, but history all the same. The horrific events of that one September day at the Summer Olympics, officials and sportspersons said repeatedly, could not, would not happen again.
Though some mention the attack at Centennial Park at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, that was never really quite the same. Eric Rudolph, an ex-US military man, wanted to embarrass the American government for its stand on allowing ‘abortion on demand’. He was a lone ranger.
The Black September terrorists of Munich, on the other hand, were linked to the Palestine movement. They took hostage and killed 11 Israeli athletes and officials in a carefully planned, well-funded military style attack. Over 20 hours or so, the eight Arab terrorists made specific political demands that they probably knew would not be met. They tried anyway. They failed, but took with them 12 lives (a German police officer also died) and left behind the blackest day in the history of sport.
For many reasons, no one believed that September 5, 1972 would be repeated. After all, even in a world gone horribly wrong, didn’t disparate terrorist groups with widely differing agendas repeatedly state that sport and sportspersons would never be targeted?
The LTTE said as much, even celebrating every big Lankan win with enthusiasm matching that of Sinhalese Lankans. The only time the LTTE got ‘involved’ was when Australian umpire Darrel Hair reportedly received unspecified death threats just ahead of the 1999 World Cup for no-balling Sri Lankan Tamil cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan repeatedly over his action. Those reports, though, were never substantiated and Hair, forever doomed to be controversial, is still very much around.
In Pakistan, too, it was pretty much the same. Spokespersons for various terror outfits based there said similar things and whether anyone believed them or not, sport, or more specifically, cricket was never attacked. So we went ahead and played, relying on a kind of invisible, unspoken immunity that sport offered.
And then Tuesday happened in Lahore. The stuff of nightmares come to bloody life. Sri Lanka’s cricket team was specifically targeted. And hell, it had to be planned. Even if you take into account that Indian cricketers get unprecedented security in Pakistan, the Lankan cricketers would not have had much less.
Sri Lanka were the one major cricketing nation that had graciously agreed to visit Pakistan, after a barren year for cricket in that country. The West Indians, the Australians and the Indians had refused to tour. The Champions Trophy that was scheduled to be held there had been postponed, almost certainly cancelled because of the security situation and a threat perception. The Pakistanis were determined to prove to the world that they could still be hosts and Sri Lanka had agreed to help them gain global legitimacy.
Now though, life has changed forever. There is no chance of gaining any legitimacy. Not now. Not in the conceivable future. On Tuesday morning, a Pakistani sports journalist and friend responding to an email asking if he was okay and what exactly was going on there sent back a terse, anguished reply: “Thanks, we don’t exist.” That’s more or less what the rest of the world — cricketing or otherwise — believes of Pakistan, especially after Tuesday.
Munich, 37 years ago, was different in a couple of ways. First, the attackers were known; second, they had a specific agenda. Till now, no one has claimed responsibility for the Lahore attacks and then again, no one knows why whoever did it did it. Unless it was to further isolate Pakistan as a cricketing nation and as a country.
In which case, sadly, they’ve succeeded where the Black September terrorists failed in their mission. From what South African coach Mickey Arthur, New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori and India skipper M.S. Dhoni said on Tuesday, they all effectively believe that cricket in Pakistan is a thing of the past. Or something for a distant future — one they are as yet unable to see.
Former Pakistan captain Inzamam ul Haq’s statements were even more telling. Inzamam, a gentle giant of a man, who can be extremely taciturn for the most, was painfully vocal when he spoke of the repercussions of Lahore. He said the problem wasn’t just that teams wouldn’t travel to Pakistan, but that the danger was also that countries might be wary of hosting Pakistan for fear of what danger that would bring to them and resulting collateral damage.
At this point of time though, it’s too early to say what happens next. After all, what happened on Tuesday has no precedent, not in cricket, not for us.
But suffice to say that cricket will never be the same again. Sport will never be the same again. And unfortunately, Pakistan — and the way the rest of the cricketing world views Pakistan — will never be the same again.