Pride and prejudices
"There are more important things in life than football." If you are wondering how much time elapsed between the news of the attack on the Togo football team emerging and the trotting out of this banal cliche, the answer, by my watch, was about 12 hours. It came courtesy of Mark Lawrenson, the former Liverpool defender who is now a TV expert on all things football and, it transpires, the socio-politics and security of Angola.
Lawro used the cliche to support his single-minded view that Togo should withdraw from the African Cup of Nations immediately. It was, he implied, a "no-brainer". In this view he was supported by the combined intellect of Martin Keown and Lee Dixon, both of whom played football for Arsenal. So they should know. Meanwhile, the Hull City manager, Phil Brown, reacted to the atrocity by demanding that his two African players - neither of whom was involved in the incident - return "home". By which he meant Hull.
I am not saying the cliche is wrong. Of course there are more important things in life than football. Frankly, almost everything in life is more important than football, and the only people who claim otherwise are the special sort of morons who insist on watching every match bare-chested. What irritates me is the simplicity of the argument. An attack has taken place, so the tournament should be abandoned.
Strangely, I do not recall anyone demanding the 1996 Olympic Games be cancelled after a pipe bomb attack killed a spectator. Nor do I recall any appetite for sporting fixtures in England to be cancelled when bombs were regularly planted in crowded public places. Even after the bloodbath of Munich in 1972, the Olympic Games continued. So, what is the difference? Why are some commentators willing to write off the African Cup of Nations so readily? And why are others already using the tragic events of last Friday to cast doubt over South Africa's ability to host the World Cup?
Sadly, the answer may be as plain as black and white. English football is no longer racist in the ugly, ignorant, monkey-chanting, ban-ana-hurling way it once was, and I categorically am not suggesting that anyone named above is consciously racist. However, in our post-colonial world, we have all inherited innate prejudices about Africa: that its tournaments are not as important as ours, that it can never be truly safe, that something is bound to go wrong. So, if something does go wrong, we do not give our usual reaction to such outrages - "the show must go on" - but seize the opportunity to turn tail and run.
For what it is worth, the traumatised Togo players did not think that quitting the tournament was a no-brainer. According to the captain, Emmanuel Adebayor, they wanted to play on in tribute to their three dead and seven injured colleagues but were overruled by the Togo authorities. That stance may change over the coming days, and I hope it does. Adebayor has shown himself as childish and selfish since moving from Arsenal to Manchester City, but his reaction to the horrors of Cabinda suggest a bigger, better man. The sort of man who understands that some things in life are more important than football: standing up to cowardly attackers and showing loyalty to fallen comrades are just two of them.
When the temperatures plummet below zero, as they have in Europe this week, we cling to bygone favourites for comfort: nourishing soups made to grandma's recipe, the old woollen jumper you have had since school, classic films in front of roaring log fires. It is the same in sport. The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancin, was so cold that he signed the battered old warhorse Patrick Vieira. And Arsene Wenger surely needs to throw another log on the fire if those rumours about him re-signing Sol Campbell are true. Best of all, Bernie Ecclestone took an icy skid down Memory Lane and now wants to resurrect Saab as a leading motorsport brand. The Formula One supremo is preparing a bid to buy the ailing Swedish car-maker from its parent company, General Motors. His bid partner is the investment firm Genii Capital, which last year bought a 75 per cent stake in the Renault Formula One team. If the deal goes ahead, insiders believe Saab would replace Renault as the team's title sponsor. This is fantastic news on two fronts. Firstly, for older motor sports fans, seeing the Saab name plastered across a vehicle will bring back fond memories of Erik Carlsson tearing around Monte Carlo in a Saab 95, rear end skidding out and engine roaring as he floored the gas and brake pedals simultaneously. Secondly, considering the damage done to Formula One and Renault by Nelson Piquet Jnr's "Crash-gate" revelations, what better brand to restore a sense of quiet nobility than Saab? A brand associated with practicality, innovation, fuelefficiency and suburban soccer moms is hardly likely to partake in such skulduggery, after all. And even if they did decide to cheat again, what better car to crash deliberately than a Saab? Their safety record is second to none, you know. Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: January 12, 2010 04:00 AM