Football, ISIS, and Refugees

After I saw and read NBC Sports Soccer’s article, “Report Paris/Brussels attackers planned to target EURO 2016,” I decided to share something I wrote in response to the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris and the cancelled Belgium-Germany game on November 17, 2015.

I posted this status on Facebook:

November 17, 2015 ·

It’s too much of a coincidence to ignore. I don’t think the terrorists targeted France. In fact, I think the other attacks in Paris distracted people from the true targets.

On November 13, the German National Team played the French National Team, and the security discovered the bomber before he went into the stadium.

On November 17, the English National Team played the French National Team without any issues and even paid tribute to France.

Before England vs. France even started, security cancelled the Germany vs Netherlands international friendly because they discovered an ambulance full of explosives before the match.

Why would ISIS militants target soccer games? The most obvious reason—football remains the world’s most popular sport. People fill the stadiums, especially for games between national teams (such as France and Germany). If terrorists wish to send a message, a stadium would be an ideal target because of numerous casualties. Disclaimer: I do not advocate terrorism, I only wish to understand this obsession because of my work as an aspiring soccer historian.

At first, the answer might seem the only reason, but if one delves deeper, one can start to understand. (Granted, one might never be able to understand ISIS and the reasoning behind their actions.) Football—it brings communities together; fans of different nationalities sit beside each other.

When the world thought refugees committed those atrocities on November 15, ISIS achieved its goal. It forced fear into the hearts of man—fear that the immigrants accepted into Europe and America entered with ill will in their hearts and minds. It wanted nativists and xenophobes to reject the refugees. It wanted to send a message of terror, division, and destruction.

FIFA recognizes the Syrian Football Association (SFA) as a legitimate organization. If the world still believed refugees orchestrated the attacks in Paris, how would this affect the SFA? In the past, FIFA revoked its recognition of the South African football associations during the country’s fight against apartheid. Did ISIS want FIFA to take the same action against the SFA? Did ISIS want the rest of the world to stop helping and defending Syria, and then declare war on it in response of the tragedies?

Both the Netherland and German National Teams decided to continue with their plans and play the game in Hanover to show unity.[1] Yet, on November 17, officials canceled the international friendly between them after they discovered a security threat. Belgium and Spain cancelled their match, but England and France continued theirs.[2]

Is it a coincidence that each game featuring Germany, might have ended in death? What was the motivation? Were German citizens the true intended targets, and not the French? Is it a response to Germany accepting thousands of Syrian refugees?

We have still failed to answer these questions, partly because the assailants died; however, the suspect captured after the latest attack in Brussels might shed more light upon the situation later. Already he revealed plans to target the EURO 2016 tournament.

Are ISIS cells planning attacks at European football games because European nations have allowed refugees to enter their borders? It’s possible, but we might never learn why.


[1] “Germany v Holland Cancelled due to ‘Concrete Plan’ to Cause Explosion in Stadium,” The Guardian, November 17, 2015,

[2] “Germany v Netherlands Friendly Called Off After Explosives Threat,” BBC Sport, November 17, 2015,



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