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The 27th biennial African Nations Cup was supposed to represent Angola’s chance to project a positive image to the world; a country free of civil war, now able to host a vibrant festival of football. However, events on the 8th January, two days before the tournament began were to overshadow the football that followed.
The Togolese team bus was attacked by separatist gunmen in the province of Cabinda, leaving two staff members and the driver of the bus dead. Two players are still receiving hospital treatment, 14 days after the attack; goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilalé remains in a serious condition with a bullet lodged near his spine.
Although the players released statements indicating they were “determined to play in the competition”, the decision was taken by the Government to withdraw the team from the tournament. This to allow for three days of mourning, as tradition dictates and to ensure the safety of the squad.
The sickening news that CAF (the Confederation of African Football) were to fine the Togo FA $50,000 and ban the team from the next two African Nations Cup tournaments, came just days after the funeral of Stanislas Ocloo and Amelete Abalo . This means that Togo are unlikely to compete in competitive matches for four years, a situation which will be detrimental to the development of domestic football.
The way in which CAF have dealt with the Togolese FA since the attack has been roundly condemned by the wider community of football. Togo’s coach Huburt Velud was outraged with the whole affair. He stressed that CAF’s decision “contradicts the values of sport” and accused the governing body of holding a grudge against the national team due to frosty relations between them and the Togolese Government. Emmanuel Adebayor also called for CAF president Issa Hayatou to resign his post, “He has served Africa extensively but this decision is outrageous”. Others claim that the CAF were reluctant to take action and postpone the tournament because it contributes around 80% of the federations’ income.
For their part, CAF insisted that the late departure of the Togolese national team and the government influence in this outcome “contravenes the rules of the tournament”. Whilst it is true that Togo pulled out later than the 20 day deadline stipulated in article 78 of CAF’s regulations; surely a degree of empathy and common sense would have ensured a different outcome? CAF also believe that the tournament is not taken seriously outside of Africa, and that by upholding disciplinary procedures the integrity of the federation is maintained. Recent media coverage makes a mockery of this assertion.
That such an incident should occur in 2010, the year of Africa’s first World Cup, has increased the pressure on South African authorities to guarantee security at their event.
Of course, the forgotten team amongst reams of controversial headlines are Egypt. They triumphed in the final, defeating the impressive Ghanaians 1-0 in the tournament’s final match, Geddo netting his 5th goal of the tournament to secure victory. Although their amazing feat of retaining the trophy (their third consecutive success) merited significant media attention, it is the events of January 8th that will be the abiding memory of Angola 2010.