With thousands watching in person and millions more tuning in on TV, many sporting events in the UK and beyond provide the perfect platform for protestors and activists to have their 15 minutes of fame.
Thankfully, stewards and security personnel are pretty savvy when it comes to spotting these things and are able to nip such acts in the bud early, but every so often an individual or group will look to further their cause by disrupting a major sporting event – enjoying the publicity that they’re afforded.
The spring of 2023 was particularly fertile ground for activists, with both the Grand National and the World Snooker Championship impacted.
It’s perhaps surprising that it has taken so long for anti-horse racing protestors to make their presence truly felt at a major meeting, but a 100-plus strong group of animal rights campaigners caused such a furore at the Grand National that the race was delayed by 15 minutes and more than 100 arrests were made.
Nine protestors made it onto the track and appeared to attach themselves to Aintree’s famous faces in a bid to halt the race. They were swiftly dealt with, but not before chaos reigned and upset the preparations of all involved – veteran trainer Sandy Thomson even believes the antics attributed to the fall at the first fence that tragically saw his horse Hill Sixteen lose his life.
Less than a week later, the sedate World Snooker Championships were the unlikely site of a protest by a Just Stop Oil activist – the individual in question managing to climb onto the table during a first-round clash between Joe Perry and Robert Milkins before releasing an orange powder onto the table.
— David Coverdale (@dpcoverdale) April 17, 2023
These weren’t the first protests at a sporting event and you fear they won’t be the last either – let’s hope that sensibility remains and that activists are peaceful, albeit disruptive, in their work.
Here’s a look at some of the other sporting events impacted by protestors over the years.
The Right to Vote
Suffragettes campaigned endlessly for the right for women to secure the vote, but one of their group took activism to a whole new level at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
Emily Davidson had snuck into the House of Commons and even planted bombs in a bid to have her voice heard, but it was her protest at Epsom that shocked the world and changed life for women in the UK forever.
She managed to get onto the track during the Derby, but her protest was ill-timed as she collided with King George’s horse, Anmer, resulting in injuries that would later prove fatal for Davidson.
It’s not thought she planned to suffer a serious injury – a return train ticket was found in her jacket, so Davidson’s act was seen a devastating piece of bad luck.
If anything positive came out of it, women were finally given the right to vote in 1928.
In the early 1990s, you had to consider yourself to be a hell of a fighter – or a bit of a maniac – to get into the boxing ring with Evander Holyfield.
Riddick Bowe was the latest to secure a bout with the boxer as famously known for having his ear chomped by Mike Tyson, and so the two heavyweights went toe-to-toe at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas back in 1993.
But the fight would be interrupted by a protestor – who would end up suffering a KO of his own. James Miller decided to paraglide to the venue before parachuting into the ring, at which point he received a bit of a hiding from security guards who had clambered onto the canvas.
It was later claimed that Miller had disrupted the fight as he was opposed to violence, although he swiftly faced physical retribution of his own in Sin City.
The End of the World
Neil Horan should have been treated with sympathy, rather than derision, given that back in 2003 he believed he had received a message that the world was going to end.
Counselling might have been his best course of action, but instead the former Catholic priest decided to alert others to his beliefs by hijacking two major sporting events.
He somehow got onto the Silverstone track during the British Grand Prix, causing several drivers to swerve around him at high speed in an act of gross stupidity.
Barely a year later, he turned up at the Olympics and man-handled marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima, forcing the Brazilian temporarily into the crowds at the side of the track. Horan was eventually subdued and Lima continued to race, however he later lost his lead and had to settle for third place.
New Balls, Please
Many football fans believe that the major broadcasters wield too much power these days, which enables them to shift kick-off times seemingly at will – and not always with the needs of travelling supporters in mind.
In Switzerland, they don’t get mad – they get even. When a Swiss TV firm lobbied successfully to have a crucial Super League game between FC Basel and FC Luzern moved to a lunchtime kick off to accommodate Roger Federer’s ATP Basel final against Novak Djokovic, supporters of both clubs came up with an ingenious ruse to show their frustration.
They launched thousands of tennis balls onto the pitch, causing the game to be temporarily abandoned as the players fled down the tunnel. After order was restored….the antagonised fans threw a load more tennis balls onto the pitch.
Game, set and match to the supporters, you might say.