Togo’s tears heighten World Cup fears

Will terrorists target the World Cup?
Will terrorists target the World Cup?

Although the South African authorities would beg to differ, the gun attack in Angola on the Togo football squad has heightened security fears surrounding teams at this summer’s 2010 World Cup.

Early indications would suggest that the Togo squad, which was on its way to a training camp ahead their opening African Cup Of Nations match against Ghana when it was subjected to a 30-minute armed assault which left three men dead, took an unnecessary risk by travelling by road through the notorious danger zone of Cabinda, where gangs have been known to attack in the past.

Togo to their credit showed a willingness to make a stand against the terrorists by staying and playing in the tournament before being called home to mourn their dead by their Prime Minister, although Emmanuel Adebayor’s side are thought to be in discussions over a possible return to play in the tournament.

The fact is, though, the African Cup of Nations has already been ruined (the opening game, a thrilling 4-4 draw between Angola and Mali has barely earned a mention) and there may also be ramifications for the World Cup.

The World Cup’s chief organiser Danny Jordaan insists that the attacks bear absolutely no relation to this summer’s big event, given that it is taking place in a separate country, thousands of miles away.

“Why are people suddenly applying double standards?” he said at the weekend. “When there are terrorist attacks in Europe, do we hear about the 2012 London Olympics being under threat? No.

“Angola and South Africa are two separate geographical areas, two separate countries. Besides, the African Nations Cup is not the World Cup.”

All of the above is true, but the fact remains that concerns regarding security in South Africa were already very real before this attack, with the country’s crime rate among the highest in the world. Those anxieties will now grow ahead of the biggest sporting event ever to be held on the African continent.

In Rustenburg, for example, where England will base their traning camp, cases of sex crimes, assault, robbery with aggravating circumstances and kidnapping all increased between 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Naturally, a distinction should be made between the sort of violent crime that results from abject poverty, and the sort of politically motivated assault that the Togo squad experienced at the hands of the secessionist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC).

But this attack, coming ten months after a similar armed assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team by Islamic militants in Pakistan, is proof of the growing confidence of terrorist groups to target sporting events.

Add to that the fact that even the most security conscious country in the world, the United States, only narrowly avoided a Nigerian man blowing up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day – and there are plenty of reasons to be fearful for what is supposed to be a festival of football.

The World Cup, just like the African Cup of Nations, needs to go ahead – if only to show the terrorists that they cannot rule by fear. Indeed, there is too much money at stake for it not to, so I won’t be backing the odds Paddy Power will doubtless offer about it’s cancellation. Anyone who is bound for South Africa in five months’ time, though, will not do so without trepidation.