Friday, 22 January 2010

Angolan Party Marred by Tragedy

Tragically the story of the 27th Africa Cup of Nations (ACN) was written before a ball was kicked. 48 hours before the tournament was due to kick-off the bus carrying the Togo team to their base in Angola was ambushed. Three members of the Togolese party were killed, many were injured and a host nation anticipating the biggest event to take place in the country after 27 years of civil war had its tournament and reputation on the international stage ruined.

In the aftermath of the attack the decision to choose Angola as host has received a barrage of criticism. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has traditionally been more daring than its counterpart UEFA in selecting some of the smaller and poorest countries in Africa for the tournament. Generally this has met with success, particularly in Mali in 2002 and Burkina Faso in 1998. However, the selection of Cabinda, an outpost in the north-west of Angola, where a fight for independence means violence remains a part of everyday life must surely be questioned. To add insult to the injuries suffered by the Togolese their Football Association requested the team return to the tournament after three days of mourning. Astonishingly CAF declined this request, stating that as Togo had forfeited their first match against Ghana they were now expelled from the competition. Unfortunately in some places in the world life is still cheap. That those who were mercilessly murdered upon that bus should have their lives cheapened further by the insensitivity of CAF is a disgrace.

However, CAF should not bear the burden of blame alone. The Togolese and Angolan authorities should have arranged for the Togolese team to arrive by air or for more security personal to escort them to their training base. Contrary to early reports two police trucks were escorting the bus but were overpowered by the dissident group, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), who claimed responsibility for the attack.

That the fear that swept Angola in the following days should lead to ignorance and selfishness on these Islands was also undesirable. Football managers immediately demanded their players return home from Angola. That their calls were made solely with thought for the safety of their players is questionable. Unsurprisingly Hull boss Phil Brown shouted loudest: “I want them back home with us as soon as possible...This throws a question mark against next summer’s World Cup”.

Brown may want to pass the time consulting a map during his intense sunbed routine - you never know he may learn something. Cabinda and Johannesburg are separated by more than 1500 miles. That people with a public voice continue to denigrate Africa as an impoverished scar upon the world rather than a vibrant continent of 53 independent states is at best ignorant and borders on racism.

Sports stars have always be targets for terrorists from the 1972 Munich Olympics to
last year’s shooting on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Attacking global icons creates such a powerful message for terrorist organisations. Let’s be honest after decades of fighting how many people outside Angola knew about the existence of FLEC? After one attack they and their cause are now internationally recognised.

The World Cup in South Africa this summer will be an amazing spectacle, let’s just hope it is remembered for the football.

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