The tragic events that preceded the African Cup of Nations have almost been overshadowed by the shoddy treatment of Togo's Kodjovi Obilale. Here's £50,000, get on with your life. Gary Al Smith on Monday's child.
In the central, eastern and western parts of Ghana as well as most parts of Togo, Kodjo is the name given to male children born on Monday. Vi means son, much like ‘Mac’ and ‘Fitz’ do.
And so: Kodjo + vi = son born on Monday. Geddit?
Good. Kodjovi Obilale is the Togolese goalkeeper whose career was ended following an attack on the Togo team bus in Angola earlier this year. Now for some perspective into Kodjovi's story.
As the Vice President of Ghana was called to receive an award on behalf of his boss who couldn’t be there, he walked – slowly – to the podium. Chin up, but with eyes far away. Then he quickly returned, took a deep breath and waited a beat. He knows what he is about to say is make or break. But he has a job to do. Clears his throat. And launches:
“Football is a game to bring us together, not to set us apart. And even as we celebrate African football, the good people of Ghana will like to appeal to Caf to reverse its decision on banning the team (Togo) ”
Some stood. Some sat. There was spontaneous applause.
This happened on the evening of March 11, 2010. It’s the gathering of the big names in African footy for the annual Footballer of the Year awards here in Accra, Ghana. It’s been a typical awards night until this moment, when sport and politics clash once again.
I was somewhere in the back-rows and the Vice President’s message took everyone back to the events January 8, when Togo’s team coach was attacked…and the disgraceful reactions of the Confederation of African football (Caf) that have followed it to this day.
Everyone applauded except, of course, the awards’ organizers. The Caf president listened to his host with an indifferent look on his face. Don’t be surprised, Issah Hayatou has been the head of African football for as long anyone my age can remember – and he’s very probably seen worse.
Togo is Ghana’s neighbour to the east. Culturally, the two countries share so much in common people usually wonder why they are even apart. Blame it on the Scramble for Africa. For the moment, the two nations are united in the grief that saw human beings die and get injured.
At the time, Togo’s Prime Minister Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo said the tragedy was "a big loss for Togo, a sad day for Togolese football."
He was right on both counts. One of those who died, Stan Ocloo, was a newly-wed. You should have seen the wracking tears of his bride. Among those lucky – if you can call his condition that – enough to have lived was Obilale.
This Monday-child is now holed up in a hospital in France. His feet are now like vegetables waiting to be watered. Yet, he didn’t hurt himself playing football for himself. He did it for his country, his continent. But he’s been left alone.
Typically, the western media has groped the Togo-attack timeline from all angles – after all, it’s the usual bad news from Africa, eh? The first question Sky Sports asked Manchester City’s Adebayor when they first got hold of him was if it was the worst experience of his life.
“Emotionally it’s very difficult…its part of life…this was one of the bad moments in my life. I will stay still and fight for this. To come back and play for those who died for us…”
I don’t blame the western media. I blame Caf and all they represent. For the way it treats its own, Caf gives the media fodder to further rub it in for the entire continent. Caf did not support Togo, instead driving them away by disqualification, only to rescind the decision after pressure from all angles.
As if that was not enough, Caf gave none of the Togolese victims a franc in support, instead they were fined $50,000.
But like Obilale said himself: “If I was a famous player like (Chelsea’s Didier) Drogba and the others, I don’t think things would have happened like this.”
A little consolation would be the fact that the Fédération Togolaise de Football has given him $70,000, in addition to FIFA’s $50,000 and the personal donations from well-wishers.
I’ve contacted the former media liaison for the team, Foussena Djagba. She asked to be spared reliving the incident. It hurt her that bad.
As for Caf, they have been a regrettable disappointment in this whole charade. And by now, I’m sure Obilale knows that more than most. In my mind’s eye, I see his every wince accompanied by the comforting French saying: “C’est la vie.”
In my mind’s eye, I also see Caf’s translation of that saying as this: “Life is a Togolese bitch.”
Knowing Caf, don’t be surprised if it really is.
Gary Al-Smith writes for kicker, ESPN and WorldCupBlog and can be found on twitter @GaryAlSmith