Fake National Soccer Team Plays Real International Match

On September 7, the African nation of Togo and the Middle Eastern kingdom of Bahrain played a friendly international soccer match. The only problem: Togo says it never sent its team to play the game.

Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf, beat Togo 3-0. Or, really, they beat a team that said it was Togo, but, according to Togolese officials, was just a collection of guys. According to the chair of Togo's soccer federation, Seiyi Memene, the team was "completely fake." (Well, not completely fake, one imagines.) As Memene points out, Togo must clear all friendly international matches with FIFA, following a series of irregularities last year.

Indeed, the Bahraini team has ceded that the Togolese seemed oddly unprepared—which may be because "the players may not have been professional footballers or even Togolese nationals." Says Bahrain's coach Josef Hickersberger: "They were not fit enough to play 90 minutes—the match was very boring."

So what gives, beyond the obvious ontological questions about what constitutes "fake"-ness in the context of contingent designations of nationality and within the arbitrary confines of sport? FIFA is currently investigating the situation, and several reports have come out blaming a "fake agent" who "sold" the match to the Bahrainis, though Bahrain has said the agent it worked with had always been "100% alright." ESPN's Soccernet floats a theory about a "FIFA-approved organization based in Singapore."

The most logical explanation may be the one offered by the vice president of the Bahrain football federation, Sheik Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, who says the confusion arose from an interagency conflict in Togo, where FIFA—the international federation that governs soccer—has instituted a temporary panel after dissolving the country's official FA—football association—last year. It's possible that the interim panel came into conflict with the sports ministry, and some rogue sports minister sent out a team of Togolese scrubs. Though I'm holding out hope that there's a roving band of soccer impersonators just showing up in various countries and challenging teams to matches.

[BBC; pic, of a 2009 match between the real Togolese team and the real Bahrainian team, via AP]