For an organisation that frequently comes under attack, sometimes unfairly, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has a worrying habit of giving further ammunition to its detractors.
Some of those cynics were against the Africa Cup of Nations being staged now, citing a rise in Covid-19 cases, but prominent people such as Ian Wright, the Arsenal legend, openly defended CAF and called out the racist campaign aimed at halting this continent’s most prestigious tournament.
But barely days after the event kicked off in Cameroon, it has been marred by controversy, leaving you wondering if sceptics who sought to dissuade some of the superstars from performing for their national sides in the west African country had a point, after all.
To be blunt, the football has been awfully dreary and the TV commentary way below par. But the slow start was expected after some teams suffered withdrawals and late arrivals due to Covid-19. At the time of writing, only one team, Cameroon, had scored more than once, with almost all the games decided by the odd goal.
But the most embarrassing moment of the competition thus far came on Wednesday in the match between Tunisia and Mali, which Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe inexplicably ended prematurely. A damaging incident like that demanded of CAF to act quickly to repair its image, but instead the organisation headed by Patrice Motsepe further shot itself in the foot by trying to force the match to be played to conclusion, 40 minutes after the teams had departed the field.
“The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,” Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Could no-one, including the match commissioner, fourth official, referee’s assistants and those in the VAR booth, have made a call directly after the match amid Tunisia’s vehement, legitimate protests? Why wait 40 minutes for such a straightforward matter?
That Sikazwe’s competence was questionable had been evident throughout the match, most noticeably when he was called to review a red card handed to Mali’s El Bilal Toure on VAR.
A more proficient ref would surely have downgraded the decision to a yellow card on seeing the incident on replay.
When the inept Sikazwe refused to reverse his initial decision, it should have sounded the alarm that he was clearly on a mission to disgrace the Afcon. After all, a few minutes earlier he had bizarrely ended the match on 86 minutes, only to be called to order by enraged Tunisians.
The question now is what action will CAF take against Sikazwe? This was no genuine ref error. It can’t be, when he presumably had to stop the clock several times in that second half to consult VAR, and for a drinks break. Tunisians are correct to call it plain cheating.
CAF should seize the opportunity to cleanse whatever is left of its reputation that is haemorrhaging after this sordid incident: they must send Sikazwe and his team packing, immediately. Tunisians have demanded a replay, but that’s probably not possible given the tight schedule.
What shouldn’t happen is for CAF to sweep the incident under the carpet, hoping it will all blow over. Even its most ardent supporters would struggle to wriggle out of this one.