This was a blunder, but expect more incidents in future
Paris attacks changed the way sports events are policed and security is now tighter than ever
There will be annoyance, ridicule, embarrassment and even anger over the abandonment of Manchester United’s Premier League match at home to Bournemouth because of a dummy explosive device mistakenly left in the stadium. But the drama is an unavoidable consequence of the febrile atmosphere that exists post-Paris.
The terrorist atrocities in the French capital last November, which left 130 people dead, have changed the way big events – especially sporting events – are policed. And possibly forever. No chance can be taken and we are going to have to get used to such evacuations.
There are just 26 days to go before Euro 2016 kicks off in the French capital and, although the
device at Old Trafford was left as the result of a terrible blunder after a training exercise, the incident will have caused a shudder of apprehension for the organisers.
There will be relief, also, of course, in that the drama was not terrorist activity but, rather, the result of an episode designed to detect such behaviour which went drastically wrong.
The game will now be played on Tuesday evening which will cause a huge amount of inconvenience for supporters – not least those from Bournemouth who made the long trip and who are set to be compensated by United. There is significant embarrassment for United with questions asked about their security arrangements.
Chief among those, beyond why the device was not removed once the training exercise was over, will be whether the club’s security staff properly ‘swept’ Old Trafford – checking for anything suspicious – before they opened the gates and allowed the fans in.
It is one thing for the device to be left by a private firm – and another for it not to be found before the public were exposed to the risk and then the fear that a bomb might be about to go off. That is a double security blunder and one that does not reflect well on one of the biggest football clubs in the world.
United have launched an investigation into what happened. It has caused headlines around the world, distress and red faces – not least for the Premier League.
But the bigger point is that the reaction to discovering what was feared was a bomb was right; no chance could be taken. The calm evacuation of the stadium was well-handled. The authorities had no choice but to abandon the game even if there were early suspicions that strapping a mobile phone to a pipe was not the modus operandi of the modern-day terrorist. The risk could not be taken. Not with the safety of 76,000 people to consider.
Security has been tightened significantly since the deadly attacks last November in Paris which included suicide bombings at the Stade de France – during the match between France and Germany – which will be the venue also of the first game of Euro 2016 on June 10 when the hosts face Romania.
Matches have been called off – friendlies involved Germany and Holland and Belgium and Spain – and there will be more. Some incidents will be real, some hoax, maybe some more blunders. But that is the world we now live in.
Since Paris there is already far greater security at sports events – cordons, pat-downs, bag searches, sniffer dogs, metal detectors and a more visible presence of stewards. That will only increase further. At Old Trafford yesterday, cars were being stopped and there were stewards with mirrors to check underneath them for devices.
The pat-down saved many lives in the Stade de France incident – it caught a bomber with a suicide vest – and is now the key security procedure at stadiums. As horrific and tragic as the events were, and as high as the death toll was, it could have been worse. So that security measure has to be rolled out even more.
Uefa are reviewing again the arrangements around Euro 2016 and the scenes at Old Trafford may well, unfortunately, be repeated in France next month, which given the condensed nature of tournament football could cause havoc. There have been warnings that some games may have to be played behind-closed-doors. We are in a new world situation now.
That may mean more delays and more inconvenience. It may also even mean more games postponed at the last minute. But that is the reality we face and, to an extent, have to accept even if, this time, it was because of an avoidable mistake.
Some will be real, some hoax – and maybe more mistakes. But that’s the world we live in
Scenes of confusion: Supporters (left) evacuate the stadium; a dog handler (above) walks round the pitch; United players troop off following their warm-up