The International Politics of Sport

Due to being distracted by snow in the first half of this week, and to being sick and cranky in the second half, this blog has been a bit neglected lately. However, I think I am finally over the worst of the Cold of Doom, or whatever it was I was laid up with, so hopefully LL2 will now be back to its regularly scheduled programming.

To get back on track, and in the spirit of the Winter Olympics, here’s a quick post on how international sporting events are all too often a mere continuation of politics by other means.

The Africa Cup of Nations wrapped up earlier this month (Egypt won. Again.), but the controversy over Togo’s ban from future Cups continues on. FIFA has assigned an Interim Caretaker Committee to the the Togo Football Federation, and earlier this week the Committee appealed the ban to the Court of Arbitration of Sport in Switzerland. A provisional ruling is expected within a few days, or at least sometime before the 20th, when the draw for the 2012 Africa Cup is scheduled.

Back in January, before the start of the tournament, the Togolese squad, while en route to their hotel in Angola, was attacked by a group of Cabindan terrorists. Three people were killed, and several players were injured. As a result of the attack, the Togo team left Angola and returned home.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF), in a striking display of callousness, later banned Togo from the 2012 and 2014 Agrica Cups, in addition to issuing the team a $50,000 fine. According to CAF’s press statement on the decision, the punishment was warranted due to “political interference” by the Togolese government:

At that time [of the attack], CAF said they have understood perfectly the decision of players not to participate in the competition.

Meanwhile, following a decision taken by players to participate in the competition, the Togolese government decided to call back their national team.

The decision taken by the political authorities is infringing CAF and CAN regulations. Therefore, a decision has been taken to suspend the Togo national team for the next two editions of Africa Cup of Nations, with a fine of $50,000.00 handed to the Togolese national football association, in conformity with article 78 of Africa Cup of Nations Angola 2010.

Article 78 allows for sanctions to be imposed when “A forfeit [is] notified less than twenty days before the start or during the final competition…” Technically, I suppose, Togo’s decision to not rejoin the cup may count as a ‘forfeiture,’ but because I’m feeling too lazy to read all the fine print, I am going to assume there is something in the CAF regulations that can be used to excuse dropping from a tournament due to fatal terrorist attacks.

“The CAF (Confederation of African Football) was warned repeatedly that this was a country at war. They had documents explaining this, but they wouldn’t heed the warnings. They must take responsibility. We are not rebels, but a military and political movement originating in Cabinda. We’re not rebels, but resistance fighters. Cabinda is a territory illegally occupied by Angola, and we are fighting for its liberation.

“This operation was just the beginning of a series of targeted actions that will continue constantly throughout Cabinda’s territory.”

Previously on this blog, Cabinda has had the dubious distinction of being nominated for the Worst Website by an Unrecognized State. Although the Cabinda liberation movement is not particularly organized, the attack on Togo shows they are still capable of carrying out terrorist strikes. The attack on the Togolese team seems like an odd choice for a group focused on liberation from Angola, but it was, more or less, a political statement intended to garner some attention to their cause and to announce to the world that their claims to independence from Angola were serious. Although Cabinda has no particular dispute with Togo, attacking a foreign soccer squad has been shown to be a pretty good way to solicit media coverage.

CAF’s ban on the Togo Football Federation, like the terrorist attack that resulted in the ban’s imposition, has political implications for African nations, as well. The President of ECOWAS has gotten involved in the controversy, pressuring CAF to change its stance: “The ECOWAS Commission wishes to note that the African Union, in its recently concluded Summit in Addis Ababa, expressed sympathy and condolences to the players, the Government and people of Togo over the tragedy. It is strange that CAF has chosen to remain apathetic to the general African feeling towards the Togolese predicament.”

It seems likely that the Court of Arbitration for Sport will overturn CAF’s ban on Togo, but stay tuned for more updates later this week on CAS’ ruling.


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