Contemptible, Awful, Foul – CAF’s Togo tournament ban is a disgrace to football and human decency

I rarely allow myself to get genuinely angry about the news. I know bad stuff happens all over the world all the time, and mostly I just sigh, shake my head, tut and forget about it. That might make me sound incredibly heartless, but I think if you don’t attempt to shelve most of this stuff at the back of your mind, you could wind up a complete basket case thinking about the appalling treatment meted out by man to his fellow man. Some of the worst atrocities upset me, of course – one of the reports on Baby P brought me to tears – but it’s rare that I’m shocked to the point of being genuinely outraged at something.

And then something happens that is so catastrophically wrong, so completely against the natural, logical way of things, that you can’t stop the bilious fury rising from your gut.

I’m talking, of course, of the quite staggering decision by the Confederation of African Football to ban the Togo national team from the next two African Nations Cup tournaments. Even more unbelievably, the team were fined $50,000 for withdrawing from the tournament after the horrific gun attack which left two of their delegation dead and others seriously injured. In the modern game, such a figure is relatively trivial, but it’s the principle of the punishment that rankles.

The CAF has apparently suggested that the government calling the players home for a three-day period of mourning was considered ‘political interference’, thus excusing the sanction. While some of the Togolese players expressed their wish to play on in honour of their fallen colleagues, any reasonable human being could see that quitting the tournament was an entirely right and justifiable decision in such horrendous, unprecedented circumstances. CAF can cite rules and regulations all they want – this is a decision made by people seemingly without a shred of human decency.

That very famous quote of Bill Shankly’s springs to mind, as if the CAF has taken his words seriously when imposing these sanctions. I’m sure Shankly would be turning in his grave to think that someone could genuinely believe that football is more important than life or death. I only hope that common sense prevails – that CAF president Issa Hayatou resigns immediately, and Togo are reinstated for the next two tournaments. For this disgraceful ban to remain would beggar belief.

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