Security Issues to Hamper ACN, World Cup?

The Great Unifier apparently can’t reconcile everyone.

Friday, the Togo National team, arriving in Cabinda, the exclave part of Angola, was caught in the crosshairs of an assault on Angolan military forces that left one dead, two players wounded, and several other personnel injured. The attack, claimed by a decades old group, the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), was aimed to possibly gain attention to the small enclave, which, while territorially part of Angola, is surrounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Atlantic Ocean. The enclave is known for its rich oil supply, supplying over half of Angola’s yearly output.

Of course, the fact that the group still exists seems to be a shock to the Angolan officials. Part of the FLEC, those who had supported peaceful negotiations, had signed a ceasefire in 2006. Others, however, were not so inclined to put down their weapons. The enclave has been an area that has been paraded with human rights atrocities, according to a UN commission, mainly coming from the main body of Angola and it’s military. Fighting had been sparse of late, but with the attention placed on Angola with the African Cup of Nations (ACN) being hosted there, it was apparently the right time to make a statement.

That’s a problem that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA must address, and soon. As of Friday night, the CAF had elected to keep playing matches in the area of Cabinda (seven total matches) with security increased. That’s all well and fine, but that would be exactly what the FLEC wants. It’s not after the players; it wants its “fellow” countrymen, and anyone who happens to be in the way is, well, unfortunate.

If FIFA has half a brain (which is very debatable) they will get the CAF to move all the matches in Cabinda to another place. Even if the FLEC continues what has been called a “terrorist attack,” innocent people will not be in harms way, instead doing what they came to do: lend their voice and spirit to the competing squads in the last major continental tournament before the World Cup. It’s not as if there won’t be a major influx of fans in the area; Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso are all based in the area for the Group B matches. If the matches are set to continue there as expected, it is a likely scenario that military personnel will be attacked at some point, and the likelihood of more innocent people dying, even those who are not involved in the dispute, is very likely and will mar what is one of the most anticipated continental tournaments FIFA has to offer.

In the same vein, however, this has to be a disconcerting issue for FIFA with the 2010 World Cup six months away, just a bit further South in South Africa. To say that something couldn’t happen in a country only a few hundred miles away is naive thinking. FIFA needs to be inspecting the landscape down there with a ferocity unlike any they have had before. This is supposed to be Africa’s time to shine on a global stage, and this is not at all what FIFA needs to be worrying about a half a year before they open the doors to the world.

It’s also not as if crime wasn’t already a concern in the country. South Africa has a reputation for murder, rape, and carjacking among the more developed countries in the world. That was already a major concern, but seeing a country fight against itself is a massive headache. It’s already apparent that relations within South Africa are somewhat strained as is, even with the prospect of the World Cup in tow. Combined with security threats from abroad, not to mention political groups who want to make a point, and you have possibly one of the most contentious months in history in the offing.

FIFA needs to get on both cases very quickly. Any major tournament will have the odd fan violence, but when that violence is happening off the field, measures need to be taken to make sure that the security of the people and players are met. They have a chance to practice with the ACN approaching quickly. Screw-ups cannot be tolerated. They have to deal with these issues swiftly and, if they cannot handle things themselves, other nations need to lend some help.

This is the game that is supposed to unify the people, not kill them.

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