Vierdaagse: Terrorist Target?

Monday, July 18th, 2016

It’s that time of year again, time for the Vierdaagse or the Nijmegen Four-Day Marches event. Self-titled “The Walk of the World,” you have to at least give it credit as the world’s largest multi-day walking event. What’s more, this year marks the 100th time that it has been held. Starting tomorrow (19 July), around 49,000 actual participants are expected to kick off their long-range hikes from Nijmegen, covering at least 30km per day, up to even 55km per day for some. They will be accompanied (but generally only in the city of Nijmegen, of course) by some 1.5 million visitors and 4,500 artists.

But we live in uncertain times, times that are not very nice – or maybe they are precisely too “Nice” (capital “N”) after all.

“100% for sure, attack on the Vierdaagse,” reads in part that rather crudely scrawled message, contained on letters that were anonymously sent, some three weeks ago, to the local police HQ as well as the local newspaper, De Gelderlander. Indeed, the walking masses that characterize this famed festival would seem to be ideal targets for the terroristically inclined – just look at the pictures that flash by at the head of the festival’s homepage – not to mention the crowds of sick, lame & lazy, non-airborne crazy folks who stay behind to take in the various open-air concerts and other public events held in the city. Further, the Netherlands certainly has its share of faulty integrated, alienated Muslim youth who are candidates to answer ISIL’s call to mayhem, although the last outrage of that sort occurring there that comes to mind predates the rise of ISIL considerably, namely the assasination in November, 2004 on the street in broad daylight of the anti-Islam gadfly Theo van Gogh.

The good news, though – “good news” at least before-the-fact, I suppose – contained in this piece from De Telegraaf is that the authorities in charge of the Vierdaagse are not impressed. (And really, looking at that childish scrawl, how could they be?) Nijmegen Police Chief Lute Nieuwerth: “This letter-writer falls in the category ‘foolishness’ and ‘not to be taken seriously.'” Meanwhile, both MarchLeader Johan Willemstein and Mayor Hubert Bruls have publicly stated that, yes, there will be close coordination with security forces, but so far there is nothing that would mandate that the safety measures already in place should be heightened.

That seems like simple common sense – even though no less than King Willem-Alexander himself will also attend. He won’t be walking, he’ll just be there at the festival’s climax, namely on Friday as marchers – those who survive to the end, that is; the weather is going to be relatively sunny and hot! – finish their last march and so may go collect their medals.

And really, let us briefly contrast here this mass sporting event with that other, somewhat more famous one due to begin two-and-a-half weeks later, the Rio Olympics: You won’t find nationalism, you won’t find expensive one-time-use infrastructure bankrupting the public coffers, you won’t find silly advertising on the part of venal multinational corporate sponsors, you won’t find doping here! Rather, the Vierdaagse is all about mass participation in healthy physical activity – and, yes, medals for all rather than medals only for the very best, or at least medals for all those who can fulfill stringent but not almost impossible sporting demands.

Can one dream that, once “sports” like bicycle racing, track and field, and others similar completely lose their credibility with the world public after the thousandth doping scandal, that they will eventually revert to this mass participation ethos? Can one at least dream that, by which I mean dream of a better world?

(Somewhat less than common sense: Another headline from De Gelderlander about the Vierdaagse reads Springsteen and the Stones Not Welcome at Vierdaagse Festivities. The piece is about how the police will be trying to ensure public safety, partly through exhaustive monitoring of CCTV cameras posted everywhere, and also thereby partly through ensuring that no excessive crowd is allowed to gather at any one place at any one time. That’s why they couldn’t have the Rolling Stones, say, giving a public concert in Nijmegen during the event, even if they did it for free, you see – too much of a tempting bombing target!

(Now, there will be rock bands playing there to entertain the festival crowds, so the unspoken corollary to this article’s message is that they must not be very good – indeed, that they cannot be allowed, from a public safety standpoint, to be very good – right? And even though the Vierdaagse is really a big event – at least within the Netherlands and the nearby NW European environs – I really don’t think those who put it on yearly need to worry about having to turn down Springsteen or the Rolling Stones.)

UPDATE: If for some reason you want to follow a live-feed of the Nijmegen Vierdaagse, starting tomorrow (19 July), you can do so here, courtesy of RTL.

I know: What sense is that?! Perhaps it will turn out to be a variation of that old saying attributed to ice hockey fans: “I only watch for the fights.” Or Formula 1/stockcar-racing fans: “I only watch for the crashes.” So: “I only watch for the possible terrorist explosions”? Nah.

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