Football authorities….don’t you just love them?

January 31, 2010

Now regular readers will know one of my major bug-bears is the people who run this great sport of ours. From UEFA’s climbdown on diving (and an acknowledgment that cheaters DO prosper) to FIFA’s absolute refusal to move into the 21st Century and embrace goal-line technology, the game’s governing bodies seem to make mistakes left, right and centre.

However, nothing compares to the latest move by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). These geniuses have decided that the decision of Togo’s Football Association, backed by their government,  to withdraw the squad from this year’s African Cup of Nations was unacceptable. This is despite the team being attacked by rebels with machine guns on the way to the tournament. The attack left two team officials dead, as well as wounding goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, yet CAF have announced that Togo will be banned from the next two African Nations competitions. They will also have to pay a fine of $50,000.

This decision, coming the day before the final of the competition, is quite simply staggering, not to mention callous in the extreme. The football community as a whole perfectly understood the decision taken by Togo to pull out, and anybody who saw the pictures of Emmanuel Adebayor in the aftermath of the attack would vociferously defend the actions of the Togolese. Indeed, I’d expect many of the squad to end up in a psychiatrist’s office in the not-too-distant future.

For those unaware of African history, conflict in Angola is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, the Angolan Civil War only finished in 2002, 27 years after it began. Perhaps the question of why CAF chose Angola to hold it’s largest tournament should be raised by FIFA. It seems churlish then to criticise Togo after they were attacked in a country that is almost synonymous with war.

Perhaps naïvely, I hold out faith that FIFA will overturn this decision from CAF. The African body have argued that they simply had to ban Togo, as their regulations stipulate that no country can pull out just before the competition in order to uphold the Cup’s integrity. Be that as it may, it must also understand the special circumstances behind Togo’s decision. And if it does not, it must be made to do so by Blatter and Co.

Indeed, with this being the year of the first ever African World Cup, it may even be worth the rest of the game’s governing bodies using their power to force CAF to back down. Imagine Platini’s UEFA refusing to allow the European qualifiers to travel to South Africa and fill CAF’s coffers. This would almost certainly see CAF’s decision overturned.

However, if Togo’s ban is allowed to stand, a possible solution is an invite to the Copa America, who normally invite Japan. This would allow Togo to take part in competitive football, and be a massive source of embarrassment to CAF at the same time. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

Sepp Blatter always stated his ambition was to hold a World Cup in Africa. Before that, he should ensure the idiots who came up with this ban are sacked, and replaced by people with a degree of compassion.

This one promises to run and run, and I’ll be following it with a great deal of interest.

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