The news started coming through early on Saturday morning and as the information became clearer, it was soon apparent that the whole African Cup Of Nations would now be tainted. When the dust had settled, 3 members of the Togo party were dead and several were seriously injured. Angolan rebels had attacked the team bus as it drove through the dangerous territory of Cabinda. It is no exaggeration to say that it is a miracle that no-one else was killed.
As of now, the Togolese team have now been pulled out by the Togo government and are awaiting a flight back to the capital Lome. After the initial attack, the team were unanimous in their decision that they wanted to pull out, but after discussions yesterday, the team wanted to continue in the competition to honour the dead members of the party. The Togolese government however had other ideas.
With second choice goalkeeper Dodji Obilale airlifted to South Africa for treatment for his injuries, the government feel it would be inappropriate to continue. CAF, the African Confideration, were determined to keep Togo in, but in all honesty, I found it quite galling that the team seemed to be getting pressure to stay in the competition. I understand the teams wishes that they would like to stay to use this incident but I don’t feel that after this, anyone’s mind will be on football in the Togo camp.
There are so many questions that need to be answered, why were they allowed to drive through a known Angolan rebel enclave? Why did no-one know they were going to drive, rather than fly as all the other teams did? Why didn’t they have an escort? It is such a mess of miscommunication and bad organisation that as I said, how no-one else died is a miracle. The team bus was sprayed with machine gun fire for almost half an hour until the rebels ran off.
Emanuel Adebayor, as team captain , has led the interviews with everyone since the tragedy and was instrumental in the decision that saw the team decide they wished to continue as a mark of respect. Yet, no-one can understand what it must be like to survive such a thing and then be expected to play football. It is only a game.
Of course, this now, quite rightly throws doubt on the security of the whole tournament. The Rebel group responsible, Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda or FLEC, have promised that this is only the beginning of an orchestrated campaign that has been planned to coincide with the African Cup Of Nations. The critics who questioned the wisdom of awarding the competition to Angola in the first place will be quick to point out that concerns were raised 4 years ago. This, they say, was a disaster waiting to happen.
Worries that this could impact on South Africa are wide of the mark, Angola is 1500 miles away. It is like comparing a tragedy in Norway having an impact in Italy. It has no merit for comparison. If anything, this will now strengthen the resolve for South Africa to be on the ball throughout the build up to the tournament. Security of the fans and participants will now be crucial for the success of the competition and the future of African footballs position in the world game.
The tournament will continue tonight with Angola kicking off against Mali but it has certainly been tainted. The wisdom of continuing the tournament will be under scrutiny from here on in and everyone will be hoping that the tragedy will be the last incident in a dark day for African football. I truly hope everything else goes to plan.