By Osasu Obayiuwana
July 31 – In a further twist to the controversy that has bedevilled last May’s abandoned African Champions League final in Tunis, between Esperance of Tunisia and Wydad Athletic Club of Morocco, the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) has nullified the decision of CAF’s executive committee on June 5 in Paris, ordering a replay of the game.
In a statement released in Lausanne on Wednesday, CAS said that “the CAF Executive Committee did not have jurisdiction to order that the second leg of the [May 31st] final be replayed and has decided to annul the decision challenged.”
Both Esperance and Wydad took the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to CAS for different reasons – Esperance wanted to be declared champions, based on Wydad’s abandonment of the game in Tunis, while Wydad claimed they deserved to lift the title as a result of the absence of VAR and what they described as the poor security situation at Rades.
But CAS was unable to deliver its own verdict on the winner of the tie.
This is because the judicial procedures of CAF, which would include hearings by their Inter-Club and Disciplinary Committees, as well as the Appeal Committee – should any of the clubs wish to appeal against the original verdicts of the relevant CAF judicial bodies – were neither begun nor completed.
“Having annulled the decision of the CAF Executive Committee for formal reasons, it (CAS) has decided to refer to the competent CAF bodies the questions of the replay of the final’s second leg and of the disciplinary procedure, which is currently pending before the CAF and which does not fall within the CAS jurisdiction in the present arbitration procedure,” CAS’s statement from Lausanne said.
CAS’s ruling, on the conduct of CAF’s executive committee on June 5, in Paris, was a consequence of CAF’s illegal intervention into what is supposed to be an impartial and independent process, led by CAF’s own judicial bodies.
As the Court of Arbitration for Sport observed: “It is now for the competent CAF authorities to review the incidents which occurred in the Rades stadium on 31 May 2019, to order the appropriate disciplinary sanctions, if any, and accordingly to decide whether the second leg of the CAF Champions League Final 2018/2019 shall be replayed or not.”
As a result of the decision of CAS, the previous decision of CAF, on May 31 in Rades – to award the Champions League title to Esperance – will stand, pending the institution and exhaustion of CAF’s judicial procedures, with regards to any legal protests and complaints, concerning the conduct of the May 31 match.
A leading member of one of CAF’s judicial bodies, who declined to be named, told Insideworldfootball that he commended CAS’s decision.
“The decision of CAS is in line with the law. CAF’s executive committee should never have interfered in what is supposed to be an independent judicial process.
“Since all legal avenues had not been exhausted, within the CAF judicial system, there is no way that CAS can step in and examine the legal matters in full.
“This can only happen when the entire CAF judicial process has been completed, which has not happened yet,” he said.
The reaction from both clubs, following the decision, has been cautious.
Hecham Jilani, Esperance Vice-President, told Insideworldfootball that while his club “is happy to be the 2019 Champions League winners again,” the club acknowledges that the verdict is “not complete and definitive yet” and would reserve his comments until there is an exhaustion of the CAF judicial process.
Said Naciri, President of Wydad, told le360.ma that “I wish the relevant committee will meet as soon as possible and decide this case. I will do my best to defend Wydad’s rights.”
Fouzi Lekjaa, the President of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), told Radio Mars, a leading Moroccan radio station, that he stands solidly behind Wydad.
“As a CAF member, I would say that there was no equality between the teams. The time has come to change things in African football, where corruption has existed for decades,” said Lekjaa, who is also CAF’s second Vice-President.
“Wydad have to be ready for the replay… I would tell Wydadis (fans of the club) that I would be the first to defend the interests of the club.”
CAF, at the time of filing this report, was yet to issue an official statement on the CAS verdict.
Contact the writer of this story, Osasu Obayiuwana, at contact at insideworldfootball.com