With the African Nations Cup only days away and excitement building all over Africa, a terrible incident has threatened to derail the competition altogether.
On their way into Cabinda, a disputed exclave of Angola where their group stage matches were to be held, the Togolese national team was attacked when a group of rebels began to fire at their team bus. Players and staff alike dived for cover under the seats; four ended up shot and injured. Then there was a fifth casualty, but one who could not escape the gunfire: the bus driver, who has since died.
Of the other four, two of the victims were players; one was the team doctor and the other was a team official of an unconfirmed role. The bullets did not discriminate.
Cabinda itself is an exclave of Angola but is beset by violence, the last remnant of the country's civil war.
One thing is at once clear. The area is not safe to host any matches or sporting events of any kind, where there is the risk of a terrorist act with the intent to grab attention at the expense of others' lives. The safety of players, fans and all those concerned is put in danger by staying in Cabinda, and it is obvious that all those matches should be moved to the other cities, with the capital of Angola, Luanda able to host the moved matches from Group B. That this was not recognised earlier by the appropriate governing bodies has had disastrous consequences.
Quite understandably, the Togolese have been traumatised, and their taking part is now in severe doubt. Togo midfielder Alaixys Romao confirmed to The Guardian that Togo's future in the tournament is far from certain. He said, "We're not thinking yet of what could happen. But it's true that no one wants to play.
"We're not capable of it. We're thinking first of all about the health of our injured because there was a lot of blood on the ground."
Midfielder Richmond Forson put it best, telling Canal Plus, "It's disgusting to take bullets for a football match.''
An earlier statement attributed to the Republic of Cabinda indicates that the attack was aimed at the Angolan government security forces that accompanied the Togo team bus.
By necessity this means that the attack had nothing to do with football, but instead was a bloody publicity stunt. That an innocent driver would be the only casualty has perhaps given the shooters the worldwide headlines that they wanted, but as far as gaining the sympathy of the world goes, they may soon learn that they have achieved just the opposite.
CAF and the Angolan organizing committee are currently in an emergency meeting to decide how to go forth and whether or not to continue with the tournament after the incident, but perhaps the best thing to do would be to continue with the matches moved to a safer part of the country, which is not threatened by the rebel forces. Sport, after all, should not be held to ransom, and as long as it is possible to put a ball down and play, the world of football should do it. The game is what brings us together - if it can't be done in Cabinda then it must be done elsewhere.
While doing this, the obviously shocked and upset Togolese need to be allowed time to decide whether or not to continue in the competition. No matter what they do, they will leave with their heads held high. Here's hoping that the competition as a whole can be an event to remember for the right reasons as well as the wrong ones.
Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com
Postscript: After publication CAF confirmed that the tournament will go ahead. There is as yet no indication that the games will be moved from Cabinda. Togo are set to pull out.
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- CAF Confirm That African Cup Of Nations 2010 Will Go Ahead
- Togo Team Bus Fired Upon; Driver Killed, At Least Two Players Shot
- African Nations Cup Comment: After Shock Togo Bus Attack, The Games Need To Be Moved From Cabinda
- The Cabinda Conflict: Background To The Togo Bus Shooting