It’s been a week to forget for African football.
What really should have been a celebration of the beautiful game on the continent – one in which we crown a new Africa Cup of Nations champion – somehow, and with such incredible speed, descended into a farce, a circus.
Competition hosts Equatorial Guinea were gifted a lifeline in this competition at the quarter-final stage with a controversial penalty against Tunisia. It’s that penalty that secured progress to the semis.
Tunisia were furious. Their players attacked the referee and damaged a locker room at Bata Stadium.
Equatorial Guinea’s fans invaded the pitch.
The referee was suspended for six months and both sides were subsequently fined $50,000 for misconduct.
Tunisia, however, were also forced to apologise to the custodians of the continent’s game, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), for saying they were biased [regarding the awarding of the “controversial” penalty] and for saying CAF “lacked ethics”.
‘How dare they say that about us?’ was African football’s governing body’s argument. And so the wheels of “Sorrygate” were set in motion.
CAF demanded an apology by midnight on February 5, or Tunisia would be kicked out of the 2017 Cup of Nations.
The Tunisians stood their ground insisting they wouldn’t say sorry for labelling CAF “cheats” who wouldn’t even know how to spell the word ethics.
The deadline came and went.
Meanwhile, back in Malabo the most shameful events in a long time were about to play itself out.
Equatorial Guinea’s fans – who already cost their football association a lorry-load of cash for bad behaviour – showed their displeasure with the Gabon referee’s decisions in the semi-final against Ghana by throwing water bottles onto the pitch.
Pretty soon it rained all sorts of other objects too: mirrors, rocks, plates.
Players and coaching staff took cover. Ghana fans stood behind the goalposts.
The water bottles kept coming. Threats of CAF abandoning the match fell on deaf ears and police eventually tried to take control.
They fired teargas into the crowd.
When the first canisters landed in the stands very close to me, journalists around me started running for cover, covering their mouths, coughing, terrified.
I just knew this was going to end badly.
A police helicopter that flew dangerously low into the venue was greeted with flying water bottles.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was surreal.
Well, the game eventually went ahead half an hour after it was stopped in the 82nd minute.
Most of the fans were gone and Ghana eventually won 3-0, setting up a final date with Ivory Coast.
It was Equatorial Guinea’s first appearance in a Cup of Nations final. But it will probably only be remembered for the shameful circumstances in which it ended.
Outside the stadium the violence continued: 36 Ghana supporters were injured, 14 of them were taken to the hospital.
The roads outside Malabo stadium resembled a war zone. Rubbish, rocks, broken glass everywhere.
The world seemed united in their disgust. Social media went berserk. The images of violence were beamed across the world.
CAF, instead of taking a real stand against these serial offenders [two incidents of crowd trouble in just a few days] decided a $100,000 fine would be sufficient.
Oh, and Equatorial Guinea also would have to pay the medical bills of injured Ghana fans.
As things stand, the third and fourth placed play-off game scheduled to be held in the Malabo Stadium on Saturday between Equatorial Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo will go ahead as scheduled.
And those same hooligans from Thursday night have been invited to come and watch.
The game is open to all, which in CAF’s words are “to promote the spirit of fair play and brotherhood at AFCON 2015”.
What an absolute joke! CAF wouldn’t even take any questions about the crowd violence at Thursday’s post-match press conference.
Heaven knows why.
Of course we’re all praying those worrying scenes won’t be repeated at Saturday’s game. But as far as I am concerned, CAF has lost all credibility and respectability.
I hope I am not alone in my displeasure with CAF’s modus operandi.
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