Does Angola attack really endanger the World Cup or just Africa’s image?

January 11, 2010

The bloody attack on Togo’s team bus in Angola is a huge tragedy for African football and like it or not, has cast a shadow over the World Cup in South Africa in five months time — the biggest sports event ever staged on the continent.

It is highly debatable whether the attack, which killed two members of the Togolese delegation as they arrived for the African Nations Cup and forced the squad’s evacuation on Sunday, really increases the risk to teams and spectators in South Africa.

Without a doubt, however, it has struck a blow against Africa’s concerted efforts to improve its image and reverse decades of gloomy stereotypes painting the entire continent as racked by conflict, disease and despair. Both the Nations Cup, held in a country which only emerged from a 27-year civil war in 2002, and the World Cup were intended to help the process of rehabilitating the continent’s image. 

South African organisers reacted with undisguised irritation to immediate suggestions that the Angolan attack should raise concerns over the globe’s most watched event. Over the weekend, Hull City Manager Phil Brown was quoted as saying the attack threw a question mark over the World Cup and other Premier League coaches were said to have called for their expensive African players to be called  back from Angola. In contrast, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger said the players should stay, suggesting other managers were motivated more by club self interest than a genuine security concern.

Chief World Cup organiser Danny Jordaan described suggestions that the Angolan attack had implications for the global event as “nonsensical”, tartly pointing out that South Africa does not even have a border with Angola. The attack in the enclave of Cabinda took place thousands of kilometres from South Africa, and the reaction in some European countries reinforces a tendency which regularly causes anger and frustration on a continent where many countries are enjoying stability and attracting unprecedented investment. A while back some Kenyan friends of mine established a Facebook group called “Africa is not one country” in reaction to the common failure of Europeans and Americans to distinguish between vastly different African nations with traditions, geographical location and cultures as diverse or more diverse than those in Europe.

Jordaan’s angry reaction to attempts to taint the World Cup with the Angolan attack clearly revealed this irritation and perhaps also anxiety that such suggestions might stick. “To say what happened in Angola impacts on the World Cup in South Africa is the same as suggesting that when a bomb goes off in Spain, it threatens London’s ability to host the next Olympics,” he said. 

Security analysts seem divided over whether the Angolan attack means the World Cup faces an increased risk. Most see the parallels as stretched to say the least–South Africa is a country with a multitude of social problems but at peace since the end of apartheid 15 years ago, with no rebel movements and no record of recent terrorist attacks. Africa’s richest economy, it enjoys impeccable credentials in the Third World and among radical movements because of its unaligned foreign policy and criticism, for example, of the Iraq war. It also has a much more highly developed security apparatus and crime fighting resources than Angola, even if the police are regularly accused of corruption. It boasts of organising at least 150 international events, including rugby and cricket world cups, without problems.

Until the Angolan attack, concern about World Cup security had focused primarily on the threat from criminal gangs, given that South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime, including around 50 murders a day. But South African police say they have also trained intensively in techniques to fight both terrorism and football hooligans and are ready for any threat.

However, police spokesman Vish Naidoo has acknowledged that the presence of high profile teams from known terrorist targets, like England and the United States, does present a risk, while analysts say the greatest danger of the Angolan attack is that it will encourage copycat actions from groups who have seen the dramatic impact of a comparatively small and easily-organised action against a team during a high-profile tournament. While teams and officials will be heavily guarded, foreign fans will be more vulnerable.

However well-prepared they think they are, South African authorities would do well to reinforce their preparations and assess whether new threats now exist. Many critics have said Angola’s biggest mistake was complacency over the situation in Cabinda and a politically-motivated decision to stage Nations Cup matches in the only part of the country where a real threat still existed.

Even if South Africa’s preparations are impeccable, the biggest casualty beyond the Togolese victims of the attack will be Africa’s image among the majority of uninformed people in West who too often tar one country with the troubles of another and whose prejudices have been sadly reinforced by events in a place many had never heard of before last Friday.


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It’s a shame that violence has to enter into football these days.

Literate football fans: Please check out a group I started with some friends. We’re running a campaign to persuade FIFA to correct their horrible English grammar, as it reflects poorly on the football world:

Here’s our blog:

And sign the petition: fagrammar

Thanks a bunch! Hope you’re as excited for South Africa as we are. Let’s go England!

Posted by kumanikuwareru | Report as abusive

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Posted by The WAGs of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho clashes with journalist (again), Essien flies into the ‘death zone’ » Who Ate all the Pies | Report as abusive

The obvious common chord between Angola, South Africa and most if not all African countries is staggering corruption and poverty, the roots of all problems. As you said Brian, who’s to say that copycats won’t strike during the World Cup, even if their motives are different? Fans will be vulnerable no matter how much the South Africans beef up their security and even one life lost will spell disaster for the World Cup. The Angola attack endangers both Africa’s image and the World Cup.

Posted by Magicwand | Report as abusive

It doesn’t increase the risk or threat to the World Cup, but it had better be a wake-up call to FIFA. How was this team allowed to bus-it to Angola? How is there not a baseline of security laid out for national team travel by FIFA? This is indescribably negligent. Very sad days indeed.

Posted by Starting_Eleven | Report as abusive

Does no one recall last year when the Sri Lankan cricket team bus was fired at in Pakistan? the ICC banned pakistan from hosting home games, the icc champions trophy, AND took next years world cup away from them..
now surely, the same should apply here. Unfortunatley, as it seems to be such a high profile event, they seem scared to abandone, or atleast postpone it. Double standards, it may seem. When human life is concerned, this should not be allowed.

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There are plenty of reasonably safe countries in Africa so why have CAF and FIFA decided to take their tournaments to two of the most dangerous? As for the idea that Togo should not have travelled by bus, that’s actually a pretty normal thing to do in most countries, not an act of reckless bravado. In any case, most Angolan aircraft are unairworthy.

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That was a concern but once again Africa is a continent not a country and its is unfair to label other people mistakes on innocent people. Stereotyping makes us ignorant and mean…as much as African countries have to deal with some serious matters, they have rights and deserve respect.

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For more in-depth news about Africa, you may want to visit Newstime Africa – We cover the whole of Africa. You will get our views on this topic and much more.

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