Lessons from Togo attack for World Cup host South Africa?

The news that Angolan separatists sprayed bullets into the Togo team's bus on Friday, killing three and wounding several others, has cast a dark shadow over the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament. What can South Africa learn from this?

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Mali players bow their heads in a moment of silence for those killed in an attack on the Togo team, ahead of the start of their African Cup of Nations Group A soccer match against Angola at November 11 Stadium, in Luanda, Angola, Sunday.
Darko Bandic/AP
Angolan soccer fans parade near the airport in Cabinda, Angola, Sunday.

Soccer fans, players, and officials are still reeling after Friday's brutal ambush of the Togolese soccer team as it traveled through northern Angola to play its opening match in the star-studded African Cup of Nations.

The news that Angolan separatists sprayed bullets into the Togo team's bus, killing three and wounding several others, came as a complete shock to everyone but the rebels and has cast a dark shadow over Africa's top soccer tournament.

Now, the timing of the attack – just months before South Africa hosts the first World Cup ever to be held on African soil – is renewing questions as to how prepared that country is to keep fans and players safe during the June 11-July 11 World Cup.

South Africa insists that it is "very unfair'' to question their security plans for the world's premier sporting event due to a surprise attack in the remote, lawless corner of Cabinda Province in the far less-developed country of Angola.

“It is nonsensical for South Africa to be tainted with what happens in Angola, which is not even one of our neighbouring countries,” said chief South African World Cup organizer Danny Jordaan.

Security concerns

German soccer officials, however, beg to differ.

"We can't simply say that South Africa is something else than Angola," said German football league (DFL) president Reinhard Rauball.

German football federation (DFB) president Theo Zwanziger agrees. “The incident is unbelievable. It is painful and regrettable," said Mr. Zwanziger. "We as the DFB must tell our players and coaches that we are doing our best for their safety.

Even security analysts in South Africa are warning that the attack in Angola could encourage violent groups to launch attacks during the World Cup, reports The Guardian.

"Far from needing weapons of mass destruction, terrorists have put a tiny place like Cabinda on the map using simple strategy and a few guns," Anneli Botha, a researcher at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, told the Guardian. "When star football teams from places like Brazil and England turn up, it could be a gift to aggressors like this."

Togo's appeal denied

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), meanwhile, has reportedly rejected Togo's request to return to the African Cup of Nations after Togolese leaders pulled the team out of the tournament in the wake of the attack.

Togo soccer star Emmanuel Adebayor - one of the world's top strikers - says he barely survived the attack and described a horrific half-hour shootout between his team's security guards and the Angolan rebels.

Mr. Adebayor's teammate on the Togo squad, Alaixys Romao, told the British daily The Independent that Ivory Coast star striker Didier Drogba said that he's "not mentally fit" to compete in the Cup after the attack.

"There was a long discussion between Drogba and Adebayor," said Mr. Romao. "Drogba said he was fully aware of the psychological state that the Togo squad was in, and he too was not ready to play in this African Nations Cup."

Adebayor and Drogba are two of the most valuable strikers in England's Premier League, arguably the world's best soccer league.

The league has expressed concern over the safety of its African stars in the wake of the attack, with some coaches calling for the tournament to be canceled. But Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said that calling it off "rewards the wrong people and provokes further incidents."

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