Yesterday, the African Cup of Nations kicked off in Angola – the dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup, if by “dress rehearsal” we mean “another tournament that just happens to be held on the same continent, in a country which bears almost exactly no cultural, economic, political or social resemblance to South Africa.” Never mind all that. After last week’s attack on the Togo team bus forced that country to prematurely pull out of the tournament, pundits were quickly weighing in on how this uniquely Angolan attack – caused by gun-wielding Cabinda separatists – was somehow a broader, African tragedy.
Rob Crilly over at South of West wondered out loud how long it would take the Western media to began foreseeing doom and gloom for SA 2010. (Answer: Not very.) Of the hysterical pack, the Mirror seemed to bray the loudest:
Bad for the Nations Cup and a disaster for the forthcoming first-ever World Cup in Africa.
The machine-gun attack on the Togo players may have taken place in northern Angola last night but the shots would have been heard around the world.
Never mind the fact that Greatest Show on Earth will be taking place in a different country. Never mind the fact that South Africa have already proven that they can host most sporting tournaments.
Shock waves from the brutal terrorist attack that left one dead and several others injured last night reverberated around planet football.
Reverberated, too, around the empty heads of the world’s pundits. Never mind the fact that Angola is only just emerging from a disastrous civil war that left most of the country in ruins; that its oil-fueled economy has created one of the largest income disparities on the planet; that its power-hungry president, after 30 years in charge, just can’t get around to calling for elections. Never mind that Angola is a strange and atypical basket case of a country, even by African standards.
By extension, I’m not sure how the hosting of the World Cup by sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed nation is a referendum on the continent as a whole, as opposed to a comment on the very particular problems, fears and follies of a very particular place.
Fortunately, not everyone has fallen prey to the Imperiled World Cup Theory. At Soccer Lens, a more sober assessment of what the attack means for the World Cup.
Many football writers, pundits and managers, such as Phil Brown, have suggested the Togo shooting raises questions for the World Cup. It doesn’t. It’s like suggesting Serie A, or even the Premier League, should have been suspended while the Balkans conflict was ongoing.
European soccer authorities have long disdained the African Cup. After all, what’s to like from their point of view? It takes place every two years, not every four as in the case of the other major continental championships, and is held in the middle of the European season, meaning players miss a month of games.
Canadian Press, meanwhile, commenting on “three deaths that should and perhaps, with better security, could have been avoided,” added a new wrinkle to the story today.
Speaking from the safety of exile in Europe, one of the [Cabinda rebel] leaders told anyone who would listen that while they hadn’t meant to shoot the Togolese players, and were instead targeting their Angolan escorts, “all blows are permitted during war.”
Rodrigues Mingas claimed that his group had sent registered mail months ago to Issa Hayatou, African football’s most senior administrator, warning him of the risks of staging some African cup events in Cabinda.
“He didn’t want to take us seriously,” Mingas charged, speaking on French radio.
While threat-by-registered-mail is itself worthy of analysis, you do have to wonder just who it was that dropped the ball in Cabinda.