African officials get it wrong with Togo ban
It is a measure of how far backed into a corner the Confederation of African Football feel they are after accusing the media of a campaign of vilification against them.
African football's governing body says "certain media elements" were out to get them in the wake of all criticism over their decision to ban Togo from the next African Nations Cup tournaments.
But there has been nothing but universal condemnation of the callous decision by CAF in the wake of the deadly shooting of two Togolese delegation members ahead of last month's Nations Cup finals in Angola.
Togo pulled out after shooting
The terror attack on the Togo team bus, as it entered the Angolan enclave of Cabinda to participate in the tournament, led to the squad withdrawing some 48 hours later.
The CAF said the players wanted to play on, despite the deaths of an assistant coach and their media officer, but that Togo's government insisted they withdraw and therefore, on the basis of government interference they are banned from entering the next two editions of the Africans championship.
CAF rules say that any team withdraws within 20 days of the start of the finals is automatically banned from the next two tournaments and they have applied the strict letter of the law.
But their failure to take into consideration the extraordinary circumstances of Togo's withdrawal has led to universal condemnation of CAF's heavy handedness. Among the critics have been political organizations and governments across Africa.
If CAF were an organization with a record of consistently applying their rules, the sanction could at least be understood.
But African football is forever bending its own regulations, effectively sanctioning tardiness and poor administration.
The most common rule breakers are teams who fail to enter competitions on time, but always seemed to be allowed in the back door after CAF's accept some lame excuse.
CAF previously turned a blind eye to a defaulters being used when Enyimba of Nigeria won their first African Champions League title and gave lenient sentences when Esperance of Tunisia tried to cheat in another major final.
There has been no action yet from either FIFA or CAF over the incidents of violence that clouded their World Cup qualifier last November.
CAF misses the point
The strong criticism of Togo ban has touched a raw nerve in CAF headquarters but to accuse the media of using it as stick to beat its leadership is to be devoid of any reality and to totally miss the point.
CAF need to explain why they did not consider the extraordinary extenuating circumstances as they are so willing to do in so many of their other disciplinary cases that have come up before them in the past.
They need to realise their decision was exceedingly heavy handed Togo have taken their case to the Court of Arbitration but already lost a bid to try and get into the 2012 Nations Cup draw, which was held over the weekend in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
CAS will hear Togo's appeal in the next month in Lausanne and it is hard to see how they will likely find for Togo, given CAF's strict interpretation of their own law.
But this is a decision that needs to also be considered on a humanistic level, bringing to bear all those famous football platitudes about "fair play" and the like.
About the Author
Mark Gleeson lives in Cape Town and is a world-renowned authority on African soccer, having spent the last 25 years writing about the sport. He was honoured for his services to the game on the continent with a Merit Award from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 2008. He has won numerous journalism awards in his native South Africa, where he currently also works for satellite TV station SuperSport as a match commentator. He also writes extensively on both South African and African soccer.