Saturday, January 9, 2010
Tragic Togo attack has done irreparable damage
Once again, the world of sport has been dragged into the news spotlight with tragic consequences. And, with the World Cup looming on the horizon, it could not have come at a worse time for the continent of Africa.
There have been fears about the showpiece event in June, but Friday night's shocking gun attack on the Togo team bus, which left four dead and many more injured, has now raised questions over the future of this year's African Nations Cup as well.
Chillingly, the event brought back memories of the Sri Lankan cricket side's ordeal in Lahore back in March. But, with all eyes on the security of the continent over the coming months, this may have more of an impact, from a sporting context at least.
Some Premier League bosses have called for the cancellation of the tournament completely and that would represent a popular move. It is impossible for the tournament to continue under the shadow of such an event and there is little doubt that any action on the pitch would be eclipsed by those taken off it.
Furthermore, the security of the players who are still in Angola is paramount. If it cannot be guaranteed - and the Togo players were given heavy military protection, by the way - then there is no option but to return them home.
Angola has vowed to ''redouble efforts'' on security, but irreparable damage has already been done. The motivation for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is that it does not want to be seen to give in when so much hope has been invested.
Indeed, there is little actual chance of the entire tournament being pulled, although Togo's future participation is still in doubt. They may yet fly home, but CAF has muddied the waters somewhat by pointing the finger at the Togo side for opting to travel by bus in the first place.
They claim there was a meeting, which Togo did not attend, that forbade the use of ground transportation into Angola. But if they were not at the meeting then how were they to know and, more importantly, who was meant to tell them?
Still, once the dust has settled, CAF will maintain that the show must go on. Africa needs support in these coming months and any decision to back down in the face of fear may attract as much criticism as one taken to continue the tournament.
African football has been hurt before. The air crash that wiped out a Zambia squad in 1993 and stadium crushes that saw at least 19 fans killed at the World Cup qualifier between Ivory Coast and Malawi in March to name but two, yet it has carried on to rise to prominence in 2010.
Suggestions that the World Cup in South Africa is under threat are ridiculous, but there is no doubt that the continent has suffered a damaging blow. The biggest damage to come out of the tragic events in Cabinda, however, may be to the hope that so many invested into the future of African football.