A week ago today the Togolese national team bus was attacked by rebels in the Cabinda enclave on their way to their base in Angola. Goal.com speaks with Togolese travelling sports journalist Jean-Claude Abalo to find out his thoughts about the tragic event that forced the Sparrow Hawks to abandon the beautiful game.
Goal.com: How does the shooting incident on the Togolese national team on their way to Cabinda in Angola affect you?
Abalo: I am saddened by the plight of my countrymen. I do not think they deserve it. If people are using sports to satisfy their political demands, I find this absurd. Why use Togo as such a weapon? I still mourn my brother Stan Ocloo [the team’s press officer] with whom I share many things. He was my journalist colleague. We shared so many ideas in sports, especially football, and he was looking forward to Angola 2010 with lots of hopes. We had good times together, but I never knew he would pass away this soon and in this way. This is insanity and it's painful. My sympathy also goes to assistant coach of the national team Amelete Abalo. He was such a great person and I liked his demeanour.
Goal.com: Who would you blame for this mishap and why?
Abalo: First, the blame goes to the Angolan authorities for giving the whole world the impression that they had control of the country's security problems. We cannot organise the beautiful game in a country where you have to watch over your shoulders all the time. Football rather unites and it is played in a peaceful and safe environment. It is meant to soothe our souls and not to kill our beings. Secondly, I blame the Confederation of African Football for acting irresponsibly with this situation. There are better ways of dealing with this, especially when you knew that side of the country was not safe. I hope we have all learnt a lesson or two with this. It is just unfortunate.
Goal.com: How do you think the organisers of the tournament would have handled the issue if it had happened to a so-called bigger team like Cameroon, Ivory Coast or Egypt?
Abalo: I do not want to put myself in the shoes of the organisers to play this game. Perhaps it is because the participation of Togo does not represent a major challenge for the organisers. In addition, you should know that there is a lot at stake for CAF financially and they would not want to waste their money by cancelling the tournament. Remember that people died and nine others were held hostage by terrorists at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1970, but the games continued. What we regret is the lack of respect for the Togolese authorities by CAF.
Goal.com: What are the general feelings among Togolese since their team is out of the tournament?
Abalo: In Togo, it is total disappointment. The national team has never been so well prepared. And we expect them to do wonders, they make us dream. Here, although we are not unanimous on the political issues that divide us, football is the only hope that the Togolese believe in, and this still hurts. Togo had therefore hoped to have a united front through this tournament but look at what has happened to us. It hurts, very badly.
Goal.com: Were you happy your government asked the team to come back home?
Abalo: I think the government took the right decision and I totally agree. It is true that the players were willing to play to prove to the world that football is stronger than the force of weapons. But their security cannot be vouched for. This is where I appreciate the strength and political will of our government. It may not have been in the collective interest of the other teams but sometimes you need to take a good decision, even though it might hurt. I blame CAF for all of this. They should have held a dialogue with the Togolese authorities but they disregarded officials and wanted to do things their way.
Goal.com: What difference would it have made if Togo had continued to play in the tournament?
Abalo: They would definitely strive to win the trophy because the Togolese players are mentally strong. They would have wanted to demonstrate to the bandits that football is stronger than the strength of the weapons. In addition, Togo would have been much more united through the tournament than before. Currently, no one is concerned about the competition any longer.
Goal.com: What do you say to those who say Togo should have played the tournament like the Zambia team did in April 1993?
Abalo: Everyone can do his or her analysis and make decisions. Zambia is Zambia and Togo is Togo. Togo has made a choice and that is final.
Goal.com: Now that Togo is out where does your heart lie?
Abalo: Naturally, it hurts but that's life. I can’t do anything about it. But for the beauty of the game I keep following the tournament. It is too early for me to make a choice.
Goal.com: Which team do you think will pull a surprise in the tournament?
Abalo: The danger can come from any country. That is what football is all about.
K.N.S. Mensah, Goal.com