Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Few Caveats to the On-Going ACN Debate

There is of course a downside to the age of instant analysis, with blogs posting instant opinions about the political under-trappings of a football tournament held an ocean or a continent away, in a country very few knew much about geographically only a few days ago. I don't know how many times today I've read writers who in one sentence condemn the conflation of Angola and South Africa ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but in the next are content to speak about how Friday's attack on the Togolese football team bus in Cabinda has affected "African football's legacy" in "African football's biggest year."

The Footy Blog and the Score's James Sharman admirably admitted that, a few days ago, he didn't know where or what Cabinda was. Yet many others in the same boat are plowing into instant socio-political analysis on the attack with a full-fledged list of responsible parties, each with their debased motives, primarily the Angolan government for hosting games in Cabinda to prove to oil investors the Angolan civil war is over, the separatists have lost, and the oil-rich region is open for business.

The desire to characterize football as a political catalyst in Africa has some history. It was after all in the similarly "unstable" northern region of Ivory Coast where in 2007 Drogba famously played Madagascar in what Vanity Fair called the game that brought "an apparent end to Ivory Coast's civil war." This story had a happy ending, but this time around it appears Angola apparently didn't have the unifying power of a Didier Drogba. Hence football can apparently end one international conflict, and be employed as a propaganda tool in the other. Or, in South Africa's case, demonstrate to the world that Africa "has arrived," whatever that means.

This sort of analysis is trite. It's true that Angola, like most countries hosting major international tournaments, likely did so with some fairly cynical political motivations in mind among more traditional ones like infrastructure, tourism, social cohesion (although the Independent portrays Angola as "reluctant hosts" with little real economic advantage to gain from the ACN). If it does emerge they are hosting games in Cabinda in full knowledge of the real potential of violence against participating teams and fans, then they should be punished by FIFA, and the tournament canceled. But I'm not certain we have the knowledge yet on this issue to draw those sort of pat conclusions I'm reading on some sites.

In any case, despite whatever emerges about the political failings of the Angolan government, or the organizational failures of the Togolese federation, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact the ultimate responsibility for Friday's attack lies with those who would use kill footballers, coaches and officials to make a political point. As Paul Hayward wrote today in the Guardian:

To assail the psyche is one of the objectives of these outrages. FLEC, who have jumped from obscurity to global infamy through 30 minutes of trigger action, have forced Togo home, ruined the tournament, put Cabinda on the map as a trouble spot and provided encouragement for other fringe groups eager to advertise their killing power.

This incident chills the bone partly because Togo's players were not enemies of the separatists. They were fired at simply because they committed the error of driving through a dangerous region and so happened to present a randomly convenient target.

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