I try to avoid writing about sport, especially football. I love the game, but realise there are many more important things going on. Sport in general and football specifically are little islands of calm for me, something I can plug into and just watch without continually deconstructing and wondering about hidden agenda.
I will say that as I’ve got older, my love for football has diminished. That doesn’t mean I don’t still love football, but we’ve now got past that intense first stage of the relationship where you now realise your beloved’s imperfections and bad habits. I’m still helplessly in love though.
However, to stretch the metaphor to breaking point, football and I would have had a massive barney this weekend, one of us would have been sleeping on the sofa.
I’m talking of course about the events surrounding the national team of Togo in the lead up to the African Cup of Nations. I was speechless at the time when the Confederation of African Football announced that Angola were to host the tournament. Even by African standards, Angola is a disaster, mentioned in the same breath as Somalia and Eritrea.
What on Earth were the CAF thinking when they awarded the tournament to this very definition of a failed state? Not only was the situation of a team bus being attacked forseeable, it was probably a given. For the tournament to be awarded with the promise of matches taking part in Cabinda is even more ridiculous. Cabinda, an ‘exclave’ seperated from the rest of the country by a corridor of D.R. Congo (formerly Zaire) jutting out into the Atlantic is very rich in oil and almost completely lawless.
It’s not often you’ll hear me agreeing with politicians on here, but the Prime Minister of Togo, Gilbert Fossoun is spot on when he demands the team return home from Angola as a result of this attack. Without doubt, professional footballers are spolit bunch, individuals often act in a fashion which portrays the profession in a very poor light, but no-one going to play football in a major tournament should be put in the situation where they are being peppered with bullets.
Part of the problem as I see it is that whilst Africa’s golden children have grown up and gone to study at the great European footballing universities, the game’s administrators on the continent are naive and foolish at best and grasping and corrupt at worst. One wonders how much cash changed hands in the process to select Angola as the host nation. The African players have grown up but the African game hasn’t. A more unsuitable choice than Angola to host a major tournament it is hard to imagine, beyond Somalia and Eritrea. And it isn’t as if the CAF don’t have form in this area, the play-off between deadly rivals Egypt and Algeria for the last remaining African slot at the World Cup this summer, a match that was always only ever going to be explosive, was held in Sudan.
Yes, that Sudan, big place, lots of people very keen on killing people because of their religion, ethnicity or politics, Darfur and all that. With two of Islam’s biggest footballing powers set to face off, they sent them to a country riven with religious violence. Nice one. It could have ended very, very badly indeed, it didn’t, but one has to wonder what the supporters of these teams had going through their heads as they boarded planes and busses to the country. What are the supporters of all the other teams thinking as they sit in or en-route to Angola now? If they attack a team bus, offing a few foreign supporters won’t even make the ‘in brief’ sections of the media.
The only conclusion I can draw is that nobody could be that stupid, so it can only be avarice and corruption. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but alongside road-race cycling and boxing, no sport is more corrupt than global football, we have bizarre decisions like this, investigations into huge match fixing ring in Eastern Europe, no doubt fuelled by shady bookies in the far-east and a litany of other examples.
Football is in danger of eating itself through its greedy business partners and amateurish administrators and it damn near breaks my heart.
Another sport which I am very fond of is the American version of football, it is superbly run with robust rules that are enforced with complete impartiality, albeit rarely, because people understand they are in a very privileged situation and don’t want to do anything to attract the attention of the game’s administrators who really do act ‘for the good of the game’ (that is FIFA’s slogan). I take solace from the fact that Major League Soccer, the USA’s initially much derided FIFA recognised national championship is run along the same robust yet egalitarian lines as grid-iron and is enjoying something of a golden period at present. Should global football collapse, as it may, make no mistake, Corporate America is ready and waiting with a tried and tested business and sporting model, and it would be no bad thing.
To read a damning document on the corruption and venality of football, I heartily recommend ‘Foul!’ by Andrew Jennings. It’s quite an eye opener.