angolan shadow cast over south africa

you know, it’s not as if club managers from around europe needed any more reasons to hate the african cup of nations. they already despised the tournament. it robs them of key squad members in the middle of the season. their players could easily return to their sides exhausted from a busy playing and travel schedule. even worse, their players could come home banged up with long-term injuries.

images like these of distraught togo national team players, after the brutal attack on their team bus, will have a negative impact on south africa 2010's image.

chelsea’s aging squad can’t afford to let the likes of michael essien (ghana), didier drogba and salomon kalou (both of the ivory coast) leave for potentially a month (both teams are tournament favorites). carlo ancelotti’s side are leading a very competitive title race in the premier league, and the reinvigorated drogba is a huge loss as he’s currently the top scorer in england.

at the other end of the spectrum, portsmouth are in desperate need of their african trio of john utaka (nigeria), hassan yebda and nadir belhadj (both of algeria). pompey are knee deep in a relegation battle, as they are proping up the table. not to mention that they are currently saddled with a transfer ban, due to their massive unpaid debts to other clubs, meaning manager avram grant can’t bring in any temporary help either.

and it’s not like these are the only two managers facing these problems. arsenal, real madrid, newcastle, inter milan, sunderland, lyon… the list goes on and on.

so when word broke last friday of the brutal attack on the togo team bus, it was like adding fuel to the fire. i wasn’t shocked at all when teams started to make phone calls to have their players recalled from angola. clubs were rightly concerned about the well-being of their players, if not only concerned about their investments in those particular players. i certainly don’t blame them, though i’m not convinced recalling them is the appropriate thing to do either.

obviously, my first thoughts were of those that were affected by the tragedy. my heart goes out to those who were injured or died in the attacks, and their families and friends too. no one, let alone footballers, should have to worry about being ambushed in this way.

but then my thoughts turned to another subject all together: south africa 2010.

after initially hearing about the attacks on the togo team, i tweeted the following:

yesterday’s attack on the #togo team’s bus & their subsequent pull-out from the #ANC, does nothing but damage South Africa’s #worldcup image.

this drew considerable ire from fellow twitterers, saying that i was naively drawing too much of a connection between south africa and angola. much of the negative feedback i received following the comment above looked like these:

@wrongsideofpond Are you on crack? What does it have to do with South Africa?

@wrongsideofpond South Africa is not Angola, they are different countries. Is Africa a continent or a country?

look, i totally get what everyone is saying. i’m well aware that africa is a continent, and that angola and south africa don’t even neighbor one another. in fact, the location of the attacks, in the exclave province of cabinda, is a staggering 1,570 miles away from the closest south africa host city, cape town. when trying to google directions between the two cities, i apparently broke google because it couldn’t even calculate it. so i’m guessing the logistics of the same group attacking a team in south africa are about as likely as me making a logical point in this post.

i also know that there is a good deal of civil unrest in cabinda. since cabinda and angola’s independence from portugal in 1974, and in particular since the end of angolan civil war in 1997, cabinda has had an armed conflict with angola aiming for independence of their own. without getting all political, i’m sure this all means the likelihood of an attack in this portion of the country is much higher than it would be in mainland angola.

that said, i’m still certain that this unfortunate even will make many national teams, clubs and traveling fans very nervous about this summer’s world cup. and i’ve got a handful of reasons to support this view, too.

  1. the “moron” public: i tweeted this in response to my twitter critics, but unfortunately, a large percentage of the world is full of dimwitted idiots. these idiots will assume that africa is a country and that angola and south africa are more or less the same place. and if the rest of the world is anything like the US, a majority of the populace will read these reports and assume that anything that happens in angola can and will happen in south africa. i can assure you that the average american can’t locate angola on a map, especially with relation to south africa. in the famous words of miss teen south carolina:

    “I personally believe, that U.S. Americans, are unable to do so, because uh, some, people out there, in our nation don’t have maps. and uh… I believe that our education like such as in South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as… and, I believe they should uh, our education over here, in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.”
    this is why people, maybe even those in the media, will forever equate angola 2010 with south africa 2010.

    hopefully south africa can provide enough assurances to beat back the negative press created by the attacks in angola.
  2. high crime and an uhappy local population: although apartheid ended in 1994, it’s not like south africa hasn’t had its fair share of recent civil unrest, too. in 2009, south africa had the 9th highest homicide rate in the world, and third in africa (ironically, coming in just behind angola). the country is also rather notorious for carjackings and robberies public places, particularly in restaurants in pulp fiction-esque style. this high crime rate is driven by the country’s high unemployment rate.

    additionally, many of the poor in the country are being strategically relocated away from world cup stadia in order to “hide” the slums and poor from the visiting fans. this “beautification project” has many in the country feeling unhappy (caution: long read on that link) that money is being diverted away from needed social programs and given to the world cup cause. the government is doing a good bit of stepping on it’s own toes here, and may have begun to further alienate an already downtrodden segment of their population.the high crime rates and unhappy population, both similar to the circumstances in cabinda, will be used by many skeptics as reasoning to draw comparisons between the tragedy in angola and what could happen in south africa. of course, that’s not taking into account the increased amount of security that the south african government has pledged to provide protection in host cities.

  3. high profile targets: my country has done a fantastic job of pissing off quite a few people worldwide, and there are more than a few african groups that are among those that despise us. that makes the US team, along with its expected large following, the biggest bullseye in africa come june. remember back to the 2006 world cup in germany, when the USMNT had to travel in an unmarked bus due to terrorism concerns? well, i’m willing to bet that germany’s international travel restrictions are a tad bit more efficient than south africa’s. and germany probably doesn’t have thousands of miles of unguarded borders for angry militants to easily sneak through either. so i could probably infer that the US travelers will be subjected to bit more risk than in 2006.

    also, a good portion of the african continent is a politically charged, ticking time bomb. there are currently a bounty of ongoing or recently ended civil/liberation wars going on, including: angola/cabinda, somalia, darfur/sudan, ivory coast, senegal, chad, algeria, eritria/ethopia conflict, and uganda. two of those countries are taking part in this summer’s finals, making their national teams potentially large targets for some rebel groups as well.if the attacks on togo’s team bus are any indication, the threats against the traveling fans and teams are very real. the world cup finals will have some very appealing targets roaming the country, much larger than those that angola are facing. south africa needs to make sure that security is one of their highest priorities, something they’re already taking strides to prove.

now i’m not trying to say that south africa 2010 is destined to be a disaster. i’m also not implying that i’m expecting there to be a togo-like incident this summer either. it’s just that the attack on the togo team bus made me raise an eyebrow.

before the african cup of nations, i don’t recall hearing much from the media about their security concerns for the tournament (i could also be guilty of not looking for those concerns, too). and look what happened. it just goes to show that these kinds of things can happen anywhere at anytime. and unfortunately, many in the world will expect this to happen in south africa just because it’s happened already in another african country.

the shadow currently being cast over WC2010 is long and deep, and unfortunately totally out of the planners’ control. club teams don’t want to have to worry about sending their players to south africa any more than already do. what it may take is a good deal of PR work by the world cup organizing committee to help diffuse the situation. positive press might be the only way to assure the fans, clubs and national federations that safety is everyone’s primary concern.

in the mean time, i, along with the rest of the world, are holding our breath and hoping that we won’t have to worry about a togo attack from happening again.

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