In one of the most disturbing footballing stories of the week we heard that DR Congo striker Dieumerci Mbokani decided that he no longer wanted to represent his country in the wake of his treatment following his treatment after being caught up in the Brussels terrorist attacks.
On the morning of the 22nd March after terrorists let off three bombs at Zavantem airport it was revealed that on-loan Norwich striker Dieumerci Mbokani was at the airport at the time, he was due to fly out to Kinshasa (capital of DR Congo) to represent his country against Angola in the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifiers. As it turned out many of the Congolese players had flown out just the day before and narrowly missed out on being caught up in the blasts that killed 32 people.
Just to think I flew from Brussels airport yesterday. Life's crazy, thoughts out to all those effected. #PrayForBrussels ? ??
— Gabriel Zakuani (@Gabs50Zakuani) March 22, 2016
Thoughts immediately turned to Mbokani’s safety but Norwich were swift to put out a statement assuring people that Mbokani was shaken but not harmed during the attacks as he was outside the airport. Although, Mbokani later revealed that his safety was not as straight forward as Norwich’s statement suggested. He told a Belgian newspaper that “At the moment of the explosion, I was on the pavement outside the building,”
“If we had been a minute earlier, we would have been dead.
“It is my wife who saved our lives. I wanted to get there earlier but she said: ‘Let’s wait for Nathan Kabasele (his cousin) who is taking the same flight. She told me he would arrive in a minute or two’. It is a miracle.
The whole football world was relieved that Mbokani was unhurt and few questioned what was revealed in a club statement on Norwich’s official website, that ‘Mbokani has now returned home to be with his family.’
The world of football was quick to pay its respects, the Belgium national team decided to call off their training session on Tuesday morning and all subsequent international and club fixtures held a minute’s silence before the kick-off.
#tousensemble, our thoughts are with the victims. Football is not important today. Training cancelled.
— BelgianRedDevils (@BelRedDevils) March 22, 2016
However, this is where the problems began for Mbokani, his experience of avoiding death by a matter of minutes left him feeling unable to join up with the DR Congo squad and instead he opted to spend time at home with his family recovering from the ordeal. This perfectly reasonably action accepted by many was not viewed in the same way by the head of the Congolese FA, Constant Omari. Omari was disappointing by Mbokani’s no-show and decided to launch a scathing attack on him in the media. He was angry that another member of the Congolese squad that was at the airport, Cedric Bakambu, made it to Kinshasa for the two games and Mbokani did not. He said:
“It’s true there were problems at the airport, but Bakambu was on the same plane and had to leave Brussels, but he caught an alternate plane from Charleroi and did everything to come here. We called Mbokani and told him of the new arrangements being made but he turned us down.”
He went to so say that a senior member of the squad, should set an example to the rest of the team and hinted at his anger towards Mbokani by saying “Do you think we need him again for the national team? I’d prefer to lose but with disciplined players.”
These comments have shocked may people in the footballing world and have left many disturbed at their callous nature. Mr Omari appears to be downgrading to the attacks to ‘problems at the airport’ and suggesting that Mbokani has no right to feel shaken and should have put football above everything else and flown out to Kinshasa regardless of his experience and all of the people that lost their lives.
Unsurprisingly, Mbokani shared the shock and anger of many at comments made by his own federation, whose job it is to support him. He hit back with an equally vicious attack of his own. He stated that “The Congolese FA president said ‘since when do people from DR Congo get traumatised?’ That’s shameful.”
“You can’t imagine a terrorist attack like that. It’s the first time I’ve been through something like this, I gave my reasons for not being able to go. After that the federation told the press in Congo that was false, that I had to go. But I said I couldn’t go and that’s why they’ve created problems for me. The president of the federation told the press I would be suspended. That’s what the problem is.”
Mbokani clearly feels upset and let down by his federation and I can hardly say this is surprising. It appears that he has been shown a complete lack of respect and treated like an object who has one job, to play football, and nothing else matters, especially not his welfare. I’m sure I will not be the only supporting his refusal to play for DR Congo again. He even appears to suggest that not even an apology would be good enough to persuade him to come back. In the same interview he told the media:
“No, I’ve taken my decision, I don’t think I will change my mind, I think it’s the best moment to stop playing for the national team.”
Mbokani leaves the international scene with 31 caps and 16 goals to his name. His time has been cruelly cut short not by the terrorists that planted those bombs but even more painfully by his own federation. They failed to deliver on their duty of care to their player and as a result have pushed him away. Hopefully from this he will take a renewed sense of how precious life is and who his friends really are and soon forget about the narrow minded Congolese football federation who no longer deserve a player of his calibre representing them.