A FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT THAT IS BECOMING A SHAME TO AFRICA
By CAMERON DUODU
The Ghanaian Times 03 February 2015
There is a proverb in Latin that warns the ancient Romans to “beware the Greeks even when they come bearing gifts!”
The proverb was based on what the Greeks had done during their war against Troy (about 1200 BC) when they had built a large wooden horse, filled it with soldiers, and abandoned it at the gates of the walled city of Troy.
The Trojans were at first suspicious of the wooden horse, but when they saw that the Greeks had sailed away in their boats, they concluded, wrongly, that the Greeks had grown weary of the war (it had already lasted for ten years) and were departing for good. They had left the wooden horse (the Trojans assumed) as a “gift” to show the Trojans that they, the Greeks, were no longer hostile towards them.
But when, after much labouring, the Trojans had managed to pull the wooden horse into their city and gone home to sleep, out stepped the Roman soldiers hidden in it, who then set upon the inhabitants of Troy and killed them pasaaa! (whole-heartedly).
Africans should have remembered this cautionary tale when they so readily agreed to take the AFCON 2015 football tournament to Equatorial Guinea, after Morocco had so peremptorily and irrationally decided not to allow it to take place on its soil. Morocco said it feared that the tournament would unleash Ebola on its territory. Yet it allowed Guinea, the country where Ebola was reported to have originated from, to use Morocco as its base of training during its pre-tournament preparation. Did the Moroccans not know that Ebola is transmitted to healthy people only from infected persons?
Moreover, if the Guinea players could be allowed to play in Morocco because they could be tested and cleared of Ebola, then why not equally test the other teams as well? What about the crowds that would gather at the matches, it can be asked. The answer remains the same – if members of a crowd have not come into contact with an Ebola-infected person, they cannot contract, or pass on, Ebola. And Morocco, one believes, could have done a better job testing and sterilising people at the gates, than Equatorial Guinea somehow managed to do.
Anyway, Equatorial Guinea said it would be able to hold the tournament, Ebola or no Ebola. Very good. But why?
It would be interesting to find out how the Equatorial Guinea offer came about. Was it spontaneously made to CAF by the Equatorial Guinea authorities, or did CAF ask Equatorial Guinea?
Whatever the case, what was in it for Equatorial Guinea? If the CAF was a serious organisation, and not one which is insensitive to the feelings of the African public it was set up to serve, it would have examined Equatorial Guinea’s possible motive in making the offer before accepting it with alacrity.
The thing is that Equatorial Guinea is one of the most noxious corrupt dictatorships still left on the African continent, and except for the fact that CAF is, itself, an organisation that often behaves like a corrupt dictatorship, should not have been considered at all as a venue for the tournament for a second time. Dictatorships adore grand parades and tournaments – Hitler’s megalomaniac posturing at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin is an example, par excellence, of this notion. So giving Equatorial Guinea two tournaments in such quick succession was actually glorifying dictatorship.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who came to power in 1979 after murdering his own uncle, may not be as flamboyant as Hitler was. But his son, Teodorin, is: this young man struts around Europe and America, flaunting a yacht and an numerous cars of the most expensive make. Like all long-lasting dictatorships, the Nguema regime feels shaky, and so will grab with both hands, any event that can provide it with an opportunity to demonstrate that it enjoys “popular support”. And what is the most “popular” sport in Africa? Football, of course.
So Equatorial Guinea seized the opportunity to acquire AFCON 2015 when it found the CAF floundering about after the snub administered to it by Morocco.
And now, Africa is seeing why – the hard way! Equatorial Guinea seems anxious to win the tournament by hook or by crook. For the penalty awarded against Tunisia in the match between the hosts and Tunisia on 31 January 2015 was described by commentators variously as “shocking”, “ridiculous”and “incomprehensible”. Ahmed Akaichi had given the Tunisians the lead in the 70th minute, with a goal that looked like a rascally back-pass, executed with the inside of the foot.
But in the 90th minute, Ali Maaloul of Tunisia and Ivan Bolado of Equatorial Guinea were tussling for the ball at the corner of the Tunisian goal when Bolado suddenly threw himself on the floor. Maaloul ‘s foot had been on the ball as Bolado attempted to take it off him, and Bolado was merely wrong-footed, not fouled. But the referee, Rajindraparsad Seechurn of Mauritius, pointed to the spot! He awarded a penalty to Equatorial Guinea! It looked in every respect as if this had been done by prior arrangement!.
The Tunisians could not believe that a penalty had been awarded against them.
Neither could I as a TV spectator. When Javier Balboa netted the penalty for Equatorial Guinea, bringing the score to 1-1, a deadly blow had been dealt to the credibility of the AFCON tournament. The fraudulent nature of that penalty award rendered the final result of the match irrelevant. Certainly, if the host wanted to win by all means, it would win. Because it had the opportunity – and the resources (mainly from oil money) – to do it.
Actually, this was unfair to poor Balboa, however, for the free kick with which he later scored the winning goal for Equatorial Guinea in extra time was a beauty. Such irony. Such farce.
The tournament can never shake off the ignominy of that penalty
award against Tunisia. The question is: why did CAN select such a referee for such a match? Who has ever heard of Mauritius – where the referee hails from – in connection with football? Did the CAF not realise that “Caesar’s wife must not only be incorruptible, but be seen to be incorruptible”? It should have known that the chances of referees being corrupted by a host country which sported such a regime were very high, and taken precautions to police referees who were to officiate in matches in which the host country was to feature.
But does CAF care?
The message to the Ghanaian side which meets Equatorial Guinea on Thursday, 5 February, 2015, must thus be this:
PLEASE GUYS, DO NOT TAKE ANY CHANCES.
Do not engage in the slightest rough play, for the referee may be looking for opportunities to send you off!
Also, score EARLY, and score MANY, for if the Tunisians had taken all the chances they had had at the beginning of their match against Equatorial Guinea, the referee’s task of winning the match for the hosts would have been that much more difficult.
Control your tempers, for provocation is another way of making you lose the match.
In other words, be as cunning as serpents, for the odds are stacked against you, thanks to CAF.
But be of good cheer – the gods of Ghana will be with you.