CAF should bow their heads in shame over Togo ban

“After Angola I’m just happy to be on a football pitch”. The words of Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor, he couldn’t have put it any better.

Adebayor was one of the lucky ones. As hundreds of bullets ripped through the Togo national team bus, he escaped, unharmed but mentally scarred. Others were not so lucky. The bus driver, assistant coach and a team spokesman all died at the scene. The terrorists had made their mark and the tournament will forever be remembered for the wrong reasons.

“I could have been buried somewhere. I love scoring goals, but whenever I do now, I say ‘yes, you are scoring goals – you could be in a coffin now, you could be in Paradise, I don’t know’. It’s very hard.”

The team immediately flew back to Togo for three days of mourning, and subsequently decided to withdraw from the African Cup of Nations. After all, how could anybody even consider football in a situation like that? How often do we hear ‘it’s only a game’?

CAF – The governing body of African Football – decided to ban the Togo team for the next two tournaments as well as fining them $50,000 for leaving the tournament.

Now, I’ve heard some crazy things in my time but that takes the biscuit by a million miles. It is something that I still struggle to get my head around. A team is shot at for nearly 20 minutes by masked gunmen, 3 people die, they subsequently withdraw from a tournament and then they are fined and banned for doing so. Now given that the team bus was the second bus to be shot at, it is by luck that the whole team were not killed. The first bus that passed was carrying the kit bags and it is believed that, had the players been on that bus, the death toll would have been a lot more.

So as I sit here trying to build a fair argument for both sides, I feel myself wondering how I can justify the decision of CAF in any sort of way. The point is I can’t. Football is, after all, just a game. Yes there are some matches that mean more etc etc but when lives are lost, it is simply, a game, a hobbie, even a job.

Imagine the uproar if the FA had fined Leeds supporters for being unruly in Istanbul on the night two of their fans were killed.

In fact, CAF could well have cancelled the whole tournament altogether. A mark of respect for those who lost their lives. Ok, financially this tournament will have brought so much needed money in to a country which needs it but we can only imagine how the other teams felt on the way to their matches. Scared would probably be an understatement. They may say that if they cancelled the tournament then the terrorists will have won. Understandable and life does go on.

More worryingly is the reluctance by FIFA, the World governing body, to make any comment at all. Mr.Blatter is renowned for the odd strange decision or two but even he would be able to see that this is a ludicrous situation. Togo have lodged an appeal with the court of arbitration for sport against the ban and the hope is that common sense, as well as a hint of human feeling, will help bring the right decision.

If the Togo national team lose their appeal it will be one of the darkest days in football history. Not only will it show that the people who lost their lives did so in vein, but it will also question what sort of people are controlling our beloved game, after all, it is, just a game.