The first match of the biannual African Cup of Nations kicked off yesterday, but as widely reported, one of the more promising teams, Togo, won’t be taking the field. Last Friday, an attack on the Togolese team bus in the host nation of Angola killed an assistant coach, press official, and bus driver.
Team captain and Manchester City’s prized striker Emmanuel Adebayor said of the incident, “This Friday at 1430, we were all dead on that bus. We sent our last messages to our families. We called our family to say our last words. I told myself: ‘If you’re still there on the ground in Angola, why not (play)?’” However, the Togolese government intervened and after much debate, the team returned home.
Undoubtedly, it would’ve been inspiring to see Togo take the field despite the tragedy. With Adebayor alone, they have enough talent to have notched a memorable win or two that would’ve certainly paid fitting tribute to the dead.
Though they understandably went home to mourn, they may still return—as they should. The healing powers of sport are considerable. The example that immediately comes to mind is Favre taking the field a day after the death of his pops, the man who taught him all there was to now about the other football. No. 4 has had many a great game but that mythical first half alone against the Raiders might be his best, most inspired performance yet, providing ample proof that playing a game that just might be meant to be played can be most cathartic when in mourning.
But the story has taken another twist with the Confederation of African Football ruling hours ago that if Togo didn’t walk out onto the pitch for their match against Ghana by 1:30 PM EST, they’ll be disqualified. Political bullshit has managed to taint the tournament even further, with the CAF butthurt over the fact that Togo’s responses to the incident have played out in the media instead of behind closed doors—as if the world wasn’t watching.
With Togo highly unlikely to make the match, hopefully someone can step in (I’m looking at you, FIFA) and the Togolese footballers can hop back on a plane for Angola. Beyond the crest of their country on their shirts, those empty seats at takeoff will be enough motivation to finish what they more or less started.