Left unattended, no accessory looks as menacing these days as a backpack.
At the airport. On the subway. At a sports event.
And, as a result of the two backpack-encased bombs that exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, sports teams and leagues around the world are rethinking what kind of bags, satchels, purses and, yes, black nylon backpacks should be allowed inside stadiums and arenas.
The packs will even be the focal point of a conference this summer of stadium-security personnel in Orlando .
“After what happened … I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people eliminating backpacks would increase,” said Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, founded in 2006 and based at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.
Next Saturday, more than 165,000 people are expected at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. Backpacks, duffel bags and large purses have been banned from the track since 2002 — part of the clamp-down that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, Derby officials have told fans their bags will undergo increased security checks for this year’s race.
No matter where the world ends up on the bag-check spectrum, some fans might never again regard the pack slung across their body quite the same way.
“I never really thought about backpacks until last week, and now you notice backpacks all over the place,” said Ryan Hershberger of Hartwell, Ga., as he headed into a Colorado Rockies game carrying a black backpack. “It makes you think.”
Down the street, at the Denver Nuggets game, a handful of fans shared the same sentiment.
“I’ve been thinking about it all day,” Joel Cross said on the concourse at the Pepsi Center in Denver. He and his wife traveled from Harrisburg, Neb., to attend Tuesday night’s Nuggets playoff game. “We’re from a community where our whole county only has 600 people in it. Nobody is going to bomb us because there’s no one there. But we’re coming to a populated area.”
The NFL beefed up security for thousands of fans attending its annual draft, which runs through today, with metal detectors, pat-downs and about 20 percent more personnel in place than previous years. Backpacks are banned. The league said it would consider what, if any, changes might be made for the 2013 season, which ends with the Super Bowl in New York next February.
Major League Baseball’s security officials met Thursday but Commissioner Bud Selig said no changes are expected in the rules on bags fans can bring to ballparks, generally limited to 16 by 16 by 8 inches. The meeting was scheduled before the Boston explosions that killed three and injured more than 260.
“I wouldn’t say that Boston has changed anything,” Selig said. “Each club makes its own decision.”
At Yankee Stadium, for example, briefcases, coolers and other hard-sided bags or containers are not permitted. At Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, wrapped presents are banned along with cameras with lenses of 12 or more inches. The Baltimore Orioles ban bags with wheels at Camden Yards.
Though the marathon bombings caught the attention of the world, not every event or championship, especially overseas, is beefing up or changing security measures.
For instance, officials at Manchester United, the FA Cup final and the European Champions League say their policies, which either ban large bags or strongly discourage them, are under constant review but not set to change.
At Wimbledon, where tennis action starts in June, no changes are planned.
At the Summer Olympics in London, soft-sided bags were required to fit under seats and couldn’t hold more than 6 gallons.
Organizers in Brazil aren’t making any radical changes to their backpack policy for the upcoming Confederations Cup or next year’s World Cup. So far, the extensive list of prohibited items includes “unwieldy” bags — no more than 10 by 10 by 10 inches and too big to fit under a seat.
Officials in Russia, which hosts the 2018 World Cup, said that whenever a sports-related tragedy occurs, they review what happened “to ensure that our own regulations and procedures are sufficiently covering such potential tragedies or risks.”
While the Boston Marathon presented its own set of difficult challenges — securing a 26-mile course dotted with trash cans and spectators on almost every block — one expert says there’s no such thing as perfect security guidelines, regardless of venue.
“A no-backpack policy is fine if it applies to everyone,” said Derek Catsam, an associate professor at University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa who has studied the safety issue in stadiums. “But then you start making exceptions for people with kids, and for the elderly and for women with purses and people in expensive seats. Where does it end? You can have a policy or not have a policy. But once you start selectively enforcing it, that’s going to be problematic.”
Catsam said security can always be ratcheted up, but then comes the issue of how much convenience people are willing to give up for the sake of safety.
“They could start saying you can bring whatever kind of backpack you want but you have to go through an X-ray system like you do at the airport,” he said. “It would take forever and we’d adjust, but I’m not sure what we’ll discover or if we’ll be making anything really safer.”