What does the attack on the Togo team mean for World Cup 2010?

There was really only one football story this weekend - the distressing attack on the Togo team by rebels in a disputed part of Angola. Nearly 72 hours have passed since the incident rocked African football. It took far less time for the world’s press and the blogosphere to start weighing up the implications of the attack for the 2010 World Cup.

Let’s look at what actually happened first. The Togo team buses were travelling to their opening game in Cabinda, a tiny territory belonging to Angola wedged between Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The buses left the Congolese city of Pointe-Noire in a convoy with police vans at the front and rear. Gunmen belonging to a local separatist group opened fire on the buses minutes after the team crossed the border into Angola. Estimates about the amount of time the convoy was under attack vary from ten minutes to half an hour. What can’t be disputed is the number of deaths, which reached three by Saturday. Responsibility for the attack was quickly claimed by The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

Within hours the attack was headline news around the world. Early reports spoke of shocked players and staff, and questions about Togo’s continued involvement in the African Cup of Nations were immediately raised. Soon some Premiership managers were quoted as saying they wanted to bring their players home. FIFA expressed surprise that the team’s travel arrangements included driving through such dangerous territory. They had expected Togo to fly to the Angolan capital of Luanda and proceed to Cabinda from there. There were strong indications that Togo would pull out of the competition.

By the Saturday the mood in the Togo camp had changed. It now seemed they would stay and play for their dead colleagues. In contrast with Friday, where reports talked of men openly crying, it seemed there was a determination to carry on, to not “leave like cowards.” Then the government intervened and it was decided that Adebayor and Co. would withdraw after all. Some may have wanted to stay but the decision was taken out of their hands. By the time of writing [Monday morning] the Togo squad should all be back home safe and sound.

Finally, reports emerged that the team may simply be looking for a period of mourning and special dispensation to rejoin the competition at a later date.

That’s the brief summary of the weekend’s events. Now let’s find out what the world’s press and the blogosphere made of what happened. Are they running scared or is the Cabinda attack a local incident which will have no bearing on the World Cup in South Africa?

Karen Lotter of Vuvuzela South Africa pulled no punches in her assessment of the attack. She immediately blamed “terrible planning by the FIFA and the AFCON organising committee.” She continued “It was crazy to attempt to stage such an important tournament in an area where political desperadoes are prepared to kill some of their continent’s greatest sporting stars just to grab some headlines and attract a bit of media attention.” The thought that such an event might have implications for the World Cup in her country doesn’t even get a mention.

Giving us lots of detail on South African preparations for World Cup 2010 is Peter Pedroncelli of goal.com. South Africa, says Pedroncelli, “cannot be compared to Angola in terms of safety and security.” He cites what happened when the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Pakistan forced organisers of the Indian Premier League to look elsewhere for a host country. “With less than a month before the start of the tournament, the IPL was moved to South Africa as a result of security concerns. South Africa hosted a fine championship with no issues of safety, and there is no evidence to suggest that the World Cup will be any different.”

“There is often sort of a mythical comparison between Angola and South Africa,” Jakkie Cilliers of the South African-based Institute for Security Studies think tank told World Sports Network. “These are two very, very different countries in terms of their capacity, their border control, the resources, infrastructure and so on available. The security framework within South Africa is much, much more developed than that in Angola.”

Contributors to this blog are split down the middle, one lot saying security in South Africa will be fine, the other fearing a disaster. I’m personally not sure how MI6 are going to help, unless the South Africans need someone to follow suspects around for months before losing track of them, as MI5 have been accused of doing in the UK.

Time magazine does a good job of explaining the bigger picture before helpfully including quotes from UK papers so lazy bloggers don’t have to find them.

Talking of the UK, most of the press here take the same line as the bloggers, analysts and FIFA, with one notable exception.

The Guardian gave a lot of space to the head of the 2010 South Africa World Cup organising committee and other important figures responsible for management and security. Their conclusion? Cabinda won’t affect South Africa.

Pictures of a stern-looking Fabio Capello should deter potential terrorists, the News of the World doesn’t say.

The Blogs Editor of Telegraph Sport says “This brutal attack has already taken a heavy toll, but ignorance and double-standards could yet add South Africa to the list of victims.”

Which leaves just The Daily Mail: ‘Togo terrorist attack is threat to the 2010 World Cup finals’ is their headline. Are you scared?

Then on Monday morning the Guardian’s Paul Hayward claimed the “seed of doubt had been sown.” The FLEC attack, he said, “provided encouragement for other fringe groups eager to advertise their killing power.”

The Daily Mail has Michael Essien flying “into the death zone” and quotes Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as saying calling off the competition would provoke further incidents.

And writing in The Times, Patrick Barclay says “This is about the Africa Cup and a group of young men for whom trauma has been compounded by conflict over the right thing to do. Football is not prepared for that, but may have to get used to it.” Let’s hope his ominous words are not the precursor to terror in South Africa.


Hannan said...

i think it's alreay been said: events in angola don't have much bearing on what happens in south africa. it's a bit like saying that the urban unrest in france in 2005 would jeopardize the 2006 world cup in germany (again, not an original observation). unfortunately, general ignorance of africa will exaggerate media reactions and stereotypes. this is not to make light of the horrible experience of the togolese squad.

Mike Towers said...

Thanks Hannan. Are you in South Africa? Keep in touch.

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