The sporting world was quick to express solidarity with the victims of the coordinated deadly terror attacks in Brussels on Tuesday, acts that could throw the country’s sports schedule into disarray.
“Horrified and revolted. Innocent people paying the price again. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. #Brussels,” Belgium soccer captain Vincent Kompany posted on Twitter. “I wish for Brussels to act with dignity. We are all hurting, yet we must reject hate and its preachers. As hard as it may be.”
Thirty-four people were killed after two blasts at Zaventem Airport and a third explosion at Maelbeek Station, on the main Rue de la Loi, which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks that came just days after the arrest of Belgian-born Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, implicated in a coordinated assault in Paris in November last year that left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded.
The Belgium soccer team — in camp for a friendly match against Portugal scheduled for next week in the Belgian capital — are lodged in a hotel close to the airport. Their training on Tuesday afternoon was canceled.
“#touseensemble, our thoughts are with the victims. Football is not important today. Training cancelled,” the soccer federation said via its Belgian Red Devils Twitter account.
Beglian coach Marc Wilmots urged that “we stay strong together. My thoughts go to the families of those killed or injured.”
“Unbelievable!” Kevin De Bruyne posted on Twitter.
“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the horrific attacks on our city,” Divock Origi said.
“I cannot believe what happened this morning. My thoughts are with the victims, their family, friends and loved ones,” Thomas Vermaelen said.
So is the March 29 match against Portugal to go ahead? The federation revealed nothing on Tuesday. A major security operation would have to be put in place, however, for what is expected to be a sell-out crowd of 40,000 fans at the stadium.
At Sunday’s Cup final between Royal Standard de Liege and Club Brugge KV at the King Baudouin Stadium, police banned fans from bringing bags and searches were carried out on entry.
The friendly between the Netherlands and France scheduled for tomorrow in Amsterdam is also under scrutiny, according to the Dutch soccer federation, who said they would leave the ultimate decision to the government.
The last time the France soccer team played at home was on Nov. 13 last year, a 2-0 victory over Germany quickly overshadowed by the attacks in Paris including three suicide bombers blowing themselves up outside the Stade de France as the game was going on.
France’s Laurent Koscielny insisted that the team “do not fear for our safety.”
“It is always difficult when you watch television and see such events. The French federation has put in a place a heightened level of security. We are calm,” he said. “All the French people are with the Belgian people, as they were with us on November 13.”
French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said that security for the June and July Euro 2016 was already at a maximum and could not be increased further.
The Brussels attacks “remind us tragically of the high level of threat we are confronted with”, Cazeneuve said. “We cannot permanently raise what is already a very high level since January 2015, but we can strengthen the measures.”
The cycling season in Belgium could also suffer at a time when thousands of Belgians prepare to line the streets, often cobbled, to watch their heroes compete in a raft of classic races.
The semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen scheduled for yesterday was “provisionally” still set to be raced, despite many riders having difficulties in reaching Belgium because of the closure of the Zaventem Airport.
The E3 Harelbeke, a men’s one-day race on the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) WorldTour, is due to be held tomorrow, with the women’s Gent-Wevelgem scheduled for Sunday.
Cyclists, like their compatriot soccer players, were quick to express solidarity, with former world champion Philippe Gilbert racing the second stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya with a black armband.
UCI president Brian Cookson posted on Twitter: “I feel for our dear friends in Belgium. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims.”
International Olympic president Thomas Bach added: “The IOC strongly condemns these cowardly terrorist attacks. Our thoughts and our deep sympathies are with all the victims and their families and friends. Such odious attacks are directed against all human and Olympic values. We stand side by side with the Belgian and European people. These and other terrorist acts in different countries show that the Olympic values of understanding, respect and peace are more important than ever for our world.”
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