Attack on Adebayor’s Togo football team leads the news

The terrifying attack on the Togo football team in Angola yesterday has been the lead item on the BBC News for some hours. Their bus driver was killed and several players were injured among the squad, which is in Angola for the African Cup of Nations

Inevitably there have been calls for teams to withdraw following the attack by the heavily armed rebel group and it remains to be seen to what extent the tournament will be affected. Terrorist attacks on sports events (such as the recent suicide bombing at a volleyball match in Pakistan and an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team), provoke particular outrage because we expect sport to be a fun diversion from the troubles of the world but also because the athletes are familiar to us.

Togo’s captain and star, Emmanuel Adebayor, who plays for Manchester City, is well-known to football fans around the world and gave a dignified interview in the aftermath of the attack. His involvement has undoubtedly raised the profile of the incident, which might otherwise have been a minor news item. 

Due to the global nature of modern sport, fans get to watch and admire athletes from countries that rarely feature in international news stories. For example, 800m runner Maria Mutola is the most famous person from Mozambique and sprinter Kim Collins raised awareness of St Kitts and Nevis. 

The familiarity of successful athletes makes their homelands seem less distant and obscure. A violent attack on a football team from a country which few people from outside Africa could place on a map therefore shocks us because we feel as if we know one of the people involved personally.   

This power of sport to make far off lands and peoples more familiar is very significant and can have the positive effect of increasing tolerance and understanding. Unfortunately, in this case the increased profile that Emmanuel Adebayor brings to the Togo team has had a different result: it has made them targets for terrorists seeking publicity.

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