By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 6 – Amid uproar, chaos and allegations of bias and mismanagement, the image of African football administration has once again descended into farce after its executive ordered a replay on neutral ground of the controversial African Champions League final second leg between Esperance of Tunisia and Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.
Following an eight-hour meeting stretching over two days in a downtown Paris hotel on the fringes of the FIFA Congress, CAF announced Wednesday evening that despite its own failings, Esperance have been stripped of their title and ordered to return their medals following the abandonment of last weekend’s showpiece final of the continent’s top club competition when Wydad players walked off in protest of the VAR system breaking down.
Esperance had initially been awarded the trophy after the Casablanca team could not be persuaded to carry on after 60 minutes because VAR, being used for only the fourth time in an African club competition game, was not available to judge their disputed equaliser because of a malfunction. Esperance were leading 1-0 in the second leg in Tunis and 2-1 overall when play was halted.
It was the first time in the 55-year history of the CAF Champions League that a match in the home-and-away final had not been completed and generated massive interest when CAF called an emergency meeting of their executive committee following a demand by Wydad to investigate in order to “save the image of football in Africa” .
Wydad had threatened to appeal and even go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if CAF refused to rule in its favour. That option now seems likely to be taken up by Esperance after CAF’s 21-strong exco decided unanimously to reschedule the second leg outside Tunisia at an as yet unidentified venue after the conclusion of the upcoming African Nations Cup at the end of July.
The verdict prompted a mixture of delight and outrage, not only in Tunisia and Morocco but among media organisations of the two countries who had converged on a first-floor committee room at an exclusive Paris hotel where the CAF meeting was being held.
One Tunisian journalist posted a live stream of the closed-door session which he said had 18,000 viewers, such was the continent-wide interest. Outside in the pouring Paris rain, meanwhile, police had to be called to separate locally-based rival Esperance and Wydad fans.
Esperence’s lawyer described the decision as a politically-motivated “scandal” , his comments adding weight to the perception that CAF, under its under-fire president Ahmad, is developing a policy of trying to bring Morocco into the heart of its administration.
Earlier this month Egypt’s Amr Fahmy was fired as CAF general secretary and replaced by Morocco’s Hajji Mouad. Fahmy was apparently dismissed after accusing his boss, CAF president Ahmad, of misusing of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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