By Andrew Warshaw
April 1 – The Confederation of African Football has rescheduled the controversially postponed Sierra Leone-Benin AFCON qualifier until the next international window June, the latest illustration of the haphazard nature of the organisation’s decision making.
The match was scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Freetown but Benin refused to play when disputing that five of its squad had tested positive for Covid-19 just before kick-off. Benin officials, including their FA President, insisted that they return home rather than play without the five affected players.
The game was first delayed for five hours, then called off altogether when there was no decision from CAF whose AFCON organising committee finally made its ruling the following day later after reviewing official accounts of the incident.
Benin accused Sierra Leone of gamesmanship when being told, some 90 minutes before kick off, that five of their players had failed Covid-19 tests.
“We all had tests before we left Cotonou on Saturday and despite travelling with a delegation of 80 people, how is it that just five players tested positive,” goalkeeper Saturnin Allagbé, one of those reported to have tested positive, told French tv. “That is very difficult for us to accept and we think our officials took the right decision not to play.”
The farcical situation left the final place at next year’s finals undecided on the last day of qualifying. Sierra Leone needed to win at home to reach the tournament for the first time in 25 years. Benin needed only a draw.
The CAF rationale to move the date appeared to be based on the fact that the match was to take place on the last day of the international window. Rescheduling it for the following day (Wednesday) would have affected the players’ return to their respective clubs, CAF was reported as explaining.
But the Sierra Leone Football Association hit back by saying Benin simply refused to play without their key men and that under the country’s Covid-19 restrictions, the five should have been be isolated and quarantined, let alone be allowed to return home immediately.
Rows over Covid-19 tests have plagued African football since last year with host national teams and clubs accused of producing false positive results, sometimes to deprive opponents of star players and give home teams an advantage.
But Sierra Leone says it will appeal against the latest decision which, it said, appeared to ignore CAF’s own regulations.
“CAF did not state the yardstick used by the committee to arrive at the said decision,” the SLFA said in a statement despite CAF’s argument about how it came to the ruling.
“Consequently, and in accordance with art. 83, 84 and 85 of the Afcon regulations which adequately address issues around failure to report for a match and/or refusal to play, of which there have been several precedents, the Sierra Leone Football Association has resolved to appeal the decision of the Afcon organising committee.”
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