x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Attack increases safety concerns for World Cup

Angola, the West African country that has spent much of recent history in civil unrest, was trying to shed its reputation and re-invent itself - much like South Africa.

Togo's reserve soccer goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale arrives on a stretcher at Lanseria airport after being evacuated to Johannesburg for medical treatment.
Togo's reserve soccer goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale arrives on a stretcher at Lanseria airport after being evacuated to Johannesburg for medical treatment.

The safety of the 32 sides competing at the World Cup this summer and the 15 teams remaining in Angola for the African Cup of Nations will be widely questioned following Friday's attack on the Togolese national team . Fifa, world football's governing body, are in contact with the Confederation of African Football (CAF), organisers of the African Cup of Nations, which starts today. The CAF have confirmed the tournament will go ahead as planned, despite the machine-gun attack that claimed the lives of the bus driver, Togo assistant coach Abalo Amnalete and press officer Stanislas Ocloo as well as injuring goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale.

Togo were travelling from their base camp in the Republic of Congo to the oil-rich Angolan province of Cabinda when a team of militants opened fire on the team bus shortly after it crossed the border. The Angola Government believe the rebel group Flec - Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda - were responsible for the sustained attack. Togo were due to play Ghana tomorrow in Cabinda in their opening match of the three-week tournament. The first match to take place in the province will now feature the Ivory Coast against Burkina Faso.

The game will be played tomorrow, as planned, while the South African president Jacob Zuma will, according to his spokesman, attend today's opening ceremony in Luanda as intended. The Ivory Coast said yesterday they had no plans to withdraw from the tournament. It is the match in Cabinda, however, that is considered paramount in the continent's quest for calm. CAF held an emergency meeting, a delegation of officials travelled to Cabinda and the Angolan Prime Minister Paulo Kassoma met CAF president Issa Hayatou in order to "guarantee the smooth running of the competition".

Fifa expressed their concern about the attack and are likely to carry out an investigation of their own ahead of the first World Cup to be held in Africa this summer. "Fifa and its president, Sepp Blatter, are deeply moved by today's incidents, which affected Togo's national team, to whom they express their utmost sympathy," said Fifa spokesman Nicolas Maingot. "Fifa is in touch with the African Football Confederation [CAF] and its president, Issa Hayatou, from which it expects a full report on the situation."

Otto Pfister, a former Togo coach, said the assault would undoubtedly mar the build up to South Africa's showcase this summer. "This is a real blow for Africa," he said. "It will obviously be linked directly with the World Cup now." The Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor, who escaped from the attack unscathed, lamented the fact Africa was ruining an opportunity to alter peoples' perceptions. Angola, the West African country that has spent much of its recent history devastated by civil unrest, was trying to shed its reputation and re-invent itself - much like South Africa - but Friday's attack has been a disastrous setback.

"If I am alive I can still play football tomorrow and in one year maybe even another Cup of Nations, but I am not ready to pass away now," said Adebayor, the Manchester City forward. "I don't know whether I am the target or not, but I know my team or my country is the target - why, I don't know." "These are the things we keep saying, keep repeating - in Africa we have to change our image if we want to be respected.

"We have a chance with one of the biggest tournaments in the world, the World Cup. Can you imagine what's happening now?" Safety concerns have dogged the 2010 World Cup since May 2004, when Blatter first announced South Africa would be hosts. The country had comfortably held off competition from Egypt and Morocco, yet struggled to avert security fears. Johannesburg - a city which has signposts warning of "carjack hotspots" and where many buildings are surrounded by razor wire - was confirmed as the venue for July's World Cup final.

Friday's ambush will have achieved little in calming outsiders' concerns. Organisers of this summer's tournament insist their plans will not be derailed. "It is nonsensical for South Africa to be tainted," said Danny Jordaan, chairman of the World Cup organising committee. "To say what happened 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."

Senior police officials stressed that this weekend's attack was irrelevant to the security situation at the World Cup, adding that they were happy with their protection plans and would not be revising them in the light of the incident. "We have taken care of any eventuality," said senior superintendent Vishnu Naidoo, spokesman for the Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure. "Although we have never been a target for terrorism [since democracy in 1994] we have prepared ourselves for this." A total of 41,000 police officers will be on duty during the tournament, he added. * Additional reporting by Sebastien Berger in South Africa

1972 - Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were killed along with one German police officer and a pilot at the 1972 Olympic Games. Members of the Israeli team were taken hostage and murdered by Palestine Liberation Organisation faction Black September. The extremists threatened to kill nine hostages - two had already been killed - unless 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were released. A gun battle ensued with German police and all nine Israelis were killed. 1996 - A bomb exploded at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, causing two deaths and injuries to more than 110 others. 2001 - The Ryder Cup was postponed in the wake of the 11 attacks by Al Qa'eda on the United States. 2008 - Australia postponed their cricket tour to Pakistan in March due to security concerns. There had been a number of bombs in the nation since the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. 2008 - The Champions League Twenty20 was postponed the day after the attacks in Mumbai. Later the same day - November 27 - England decided to fly home from their tour of India. India withdrew from their proposed tour to Pakistan in December following the attacks on Mumbai, with Sri Lanka stepping in as replacements. 2009 - The Sri Lanka cricket team coach came under attack in Lahore. Six policemen and a civilian were killed, while players Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana were hospitalised after gunmen struck as the bus made its way to the Gaddafi Stadium.