Outsports.com and other media sources report a serious, and not unexpected, incident of anti-gay violence during the the World Outgames in Copenhagen. On July 28, according to Jim Buzinski of Outsports, "A member of the Seattle Frontrunners was injured from shrapnel when a bomb was thrown onto the track during competition. Dean Koga's right hand was injured and he required stitches after the bomb, believed to be a small incendiary device, exploded right before the start of the men's 4x200 relay at Osterbro Stadium."
Two more bombs were tossed within the next half hour, being lobbed over a fence around the sports venue. Spectators and athletes were thrown into turmoil, before police caught the suspect, a young man, who turned out to have half a dozen more 9-inch homemade bombs in his backpack.
Two athlete witnesses of the attacks, Keith Little and Sam Felker of Tennessee, wrote in their blog : "The large crowd of athletes and spectators was stunned by what can only be described as a hate crime attack. Competition resumed after consulting with the athletes who were determined not to let this incident succeed in stopping the Outgames."
Some observers told the media that they felt police security around the Games was not as strict as it could have been.
An Isolated Incident or Not?
According to today's story followup by Outsports, Dean Koga needed a trip to the emergency room and four doctors to remove the shrapnel from his hand. But he pulled himself together in the very best sports tradition. Next day, with hand bandaged, the 58-year-old runner came back and won a gold medal in his age group in the men's 200 meter. He called the bomb attack "an isolated incident," and pronounced the Games a "wonderful event."
The Outgames' own website reports: "Both World Outgames and the police view the incident seriously. World Outgames is working closely with the police to ensure participant safety, and measures are being taken to enhance security. All coming sports events, cultural events and the human-rights conference will proceed on schedule and according to plan." At the conference, former NBA out basketball star John Amaechi, a native of the UK, will be the keynote speaker.
Nothing "can stop the love," the Games' organization asserted. The Games' motto is "Love of freedom...freedom to love."
World Outgames director Uffe Elbæk made a statement to the press, saying, "We are deeply saddened that this should occur during an otherwise excellent event, and moved on behalf of the injured athlete. I am, however, relieved that the incident was not more serious and I am very satisfied by our cooperation with the police during this episode."
Spectator turnout at the Games is lighter than anticipated -- empty seats in the stands -- because of the recession. But the 4000 athletes who arrived from 90 different countries to compete were already learning that traditionally gay-friendly Denmark has recently been rocked by growing outbursts of homophobic violence. Right after the Games' opening ceremonies, with the whole city feeling festive and decked out in rainbow colors, three gay men were attacked right on the street in downtown Copenhagen.
Koga and other Outgames competitors may hope that this is only an "isolated incident." But the fact is -- all across Europe recently, anti-gay violence is ramping up -- attacks on gay men in long-tolerant Amsterdam, the murder of a transgender person in Portugal, ugly incidents at Pride events in Russia and Hungary. Like the U.S., many EU countries have yet to commit to reporting, and vigorously prosecuting, hate crimes against LGBT people.
In turn, the anti-gay crime wave is part of a larger surge of European hostility against Jews, Muslims and unwanted immigrants. Europe is having its own problems with illegal aliens, especially those from eastern Europe and African countries who are desperately looking to escape from poverty and political meltdown in their own countries.
A Global Surge of Violence in Sports
Social violence around sports is nothing new. During the ancient Olympics, when a galaxy of rival Greek states came together for play, the organizers found it necessary to impose a strict truce on fighting. During the Roman and Byzantine empires, chariot races often turned into battles between political factions.
But since the 1960s, the sports world has seen an extraordinary spike in brutal high-profile attacks on athletes, both on and off the field, as a reflection of how small the world is getting, and how explosive the issues are.
A recent Reuters story puts together the sad timeline, starting with the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich summer games. Since then, security at sports events has become ever more complicated. My 1974 novel The Front Runner points out how easy it is for a professional sniper with a political agenda to sit in a distant hide and draw a bead on a controversial athlete who is competing a thousand feet away. In 1993, champion tennis player Monica Seles was stabbed right on the court during a Hamburg match. In Iraq, repeated attacks on various teams by Islamic hardliners signal their hatred of Western sports. Last year, South African woman soccer star Eudy Simelane became a lightning rod for growing anti-lesbian hostility in that country when she was gang-raped and murdered. The trials of her killers have kept South Africa in an uproar.
Indeed, soccer has probably the longest, darkest record of assaults on athletes for all kinds of reasons, because the international political passions around that sport are so fierce, and the brawls among players and riots by fans are so frequent.
In March this year, the Huffington Post pointed out two landmark incidents in one week. First, as a reflection of how fatal the passions around cricket can be in the Far East, came a terrorist attack on a bus carrrying the Sri Lankan cricket team, with 8 people (including 6 police) killed during the firefight, and 6 of the players wounded.
Then, in Europe that same week, came Sweden's insistence that spectators be banned from its Davis Cup match with Israel, because of anti-Israeli demonstrations raging in the streets outside. This was a first. Some observers fear that Sweden's decision sends a message -- that a corner has been turned, that it's becoming impossible for event organizers to ensure athlete safety.
Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, the Outgames continue till August 2, with 34 different sports scheduled. Most of the competitors are amateur athletes, with many professionals still reluctant to come out while their careers are still active. We'll have to pray that the rest of the events go off without any further harm to anyone.