Washington D.C - Moroccans are crying foul against the Federation Internationale of Football Association (FIFA) and demand explanations for the non-use of the VAR system during the Morocco-Portugal match on Wednesday.
Washington D.C – Moroccans are crying foul against the Federation Internationale of Football Association (FIFA) and demand explanations for the non-use of the VAR system during the Morocco-Portugal match on Wednesday.
A petition was launched on Thursday to demand that FIFA replay the match and undo the injustices that the referees inflicted on Morocco. The petition, which as of now has been signed by 48,000 people, accuses the world’s football governing body of using the VAR only for powerful countries.
Millions of fans and experts around the world were astonished to witness the injustice that American referee Mark Geiger committed against Morocco in at least three instances. First, in the goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo at the fourth minute, which should not have been allowed. Right before the Portuguese striker scored the winning goal, his teammate, Pepe, committed a clear foul against Moroccan player Khalid Boutaib.
The foul was so clear that it warranted the use of the VAR to determine whether Pepe committed a foul before Ronaldo’s goal. Despite Moroccan players and their head coach’s protests, the referee had a different opinion and decided to allow the goal.
The decision of the referee was in total disregard of FIFA’s own rules. In page 14 of its document “Law 12 Fouls and Misconducts,” FIFA says clearly that “referees are reminded to make an early intervention and to deal firmly with holding offences, especially inside the penalty area at corner kicks and free kicks.”
And when these offences happen while the ball is in play, the referee should award a direct free kick or a penalty kick. But nothing of these rules were applied despite the clear foul committed against the Moroccan player before Ronaldo’s goal.
To add insult to injury, the American referee overlooked two clear penalties in Morocco’s favor. The first one was again a clear foul against Moroccan striker Khalid Boutaib. At the 30th minute of the match, the Moroccan player was openly pushed from the back inside the penalty area, a foul deserving of a penalty kick.
Once again, despite Moroccan players’ insistence on the use of the VAR, the referee, who was just meters away from the action, overlooked the foul and decided to deprive Morocco of the use of this technology.
The referees’ injustice against Morocco did not stop there. At the 85th minute, Portuguese defender Pepe was again at the center of an action that should have been cause for a penalty kick in Morocco’s favor. As Pepe was trying to clear a ball coming from a corner, the ball hit his arm, causing the ball to change its trajectory.
In accordance with FIFA rules, when the ball touches the hand of the player and changes the trajectory of the ball, a penalty kick must be given to the opposing team. But once again, the American referee overlooked this foul and refused to use the VAR.
Several renowned experts, referees, and managers have denounced the prejudice with which the American referee treated Morocco throughout the entire game.
Commenting after the match on beIN Sports France, Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s former head coach, said the American referee deprived the Moroccan team from two penalty kicks.
The same opinion was expressed by former Senegalese star Hadji Diouf, former French player Marcel Desailly, former French player and coach Luis Fernandez, and former Italian striker Christian Vieri.
“We understand the attitude of Hervé Renard. Video refereeing has been put in place to avoid this. It was not used as it should have been,” said Fernandez. “I think the anger of the coach after the match was acceptable,” he added.
Other experts have also denounced the poor performance of the American referee. Speaking to Italian TV station Mediaset, Italian referee Mauro Bergonzi said that the American referee deprived Morocco of a deserved penalty after Portuguese player Fonte pushed Moroccan player Khaled Boutaib from the back at the 30th minute. The Italian referee said that that mistake was the “most serious” so far in the World Cup.
Referees’ mistakes in football matches are very common and there have been many instances in the past where teams were wronged by the referees. But what makes the pill bitter for Moroccans and millions of fans around the world is that the Moroccan team was the victim of outrageous refereeing injustices in the presence of the VAR.
More still, what angers Moroccans the most is that the VAR was used in several litigious actions in this World Cup, playing a determinant role in defining the results of many matches.
We have all witnessed how Australia benefited from two penalties in two matches through the use of the VAR. The first one was against France, allowing it to level the score, though it eventually lost 2-1. The second one was against Denmark. Australia is still alive in this competition thanks to a penalty kick that allowed it to snatch a precious draw against Denmark.
Other teams, such as France, Spain, Costa Rica, and Mexico also benefited from the use of the VAR in actions that were less clear than the actions overlooked by the American referee in the Morocco-Portugal match.
Before the installation of the VAR system, FIFA said repeatedly that it was meant to avoid the injustices that many teams suffered in the past because of monumental mistakes by many referees around the world.
However, it seems that this video technology was not put in place to make this sport fairer. It was put in place to favor what many consider as “big” nations. One wonders what would have been the decisions of the American referee if those fouls were committed by Morocco. In that scenario, there is no doubt that the goal would have been disallowed and Portugal would have been given two penalty kicks.
The performance of the American referee, his inglorious resume, and the timing of the match raise many questions about the integrity of FIFA. One could just wonder why FIFA would appoint a referee who was already involved in similar cases. Mark Geiger has some precedents in assassinating the hopes and dreams of other nations.
In the semi-final of the Gold Cup match pitting Mexico against Panama in July 2015, Geiger vanquished the dreams of Panama’s fans to reach the final of the competition because of his glaring mistakes. The scandalous performance of the American referee caused Panama to lose the match in the most ignominious manner.
Why appoint a referee who has committed such injustices in the past and was even accused of match-fixing? Many are wondering whether there was a deliberate intention from FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, to eliminate Morocco from the World Cup.
Millions of Moroccans around the world tend to believe that the FIFA president was not pleased by the pressure Morocco put on him before the vote on the 2026 World Cup bid, and he retaliated against the team.
It was clear since the beginning of the bidding process to host the 2026 World Cup that Infantino was in favor of the United 2026 North American bid. Infantino was indebted to the Americans who allowed him to become FIFA’s head, following the forced departure of former President Sepp Blatter.
Infantino intended to eliminate Morocco before reaching the voting stage. However, Morocco’s pressure and the media campaign it launched forced Infantino to allow the Morocco 2026 bid to reach the final stage.
The poor performance of the American referee against Morocco is raising serious questions, putting the credibility of FIFA on the line.
We may never know if there was a deliberate intent to harm Morocco. But one thing is certain: the outpouring of solidarity with Morocco following its match against Portugal shows that millions of fans around the world are convinced that FIFA’s main concern is not fair play, but marketing.
Fans are aware of FIFA’s obsession with making more money after each competition. Obviously, for big sponsors who look for more ratings and earnings than fair play, having a player like Cristiano Ronaldo eliminated from the first round of the World Cup would deal a hard blow to the whole competition, causing a steep drop in ratings and earnings.
In the face of the selective use of FIFA’s rules in this World Cup and its total disregard for the so-called small teams, the African Football Confederation (CAF) should raise its voice and play its role in defending the interests of its members.
CAF President Ahmad Ahmad should denounce in clear terms the injustice inflicted on Morocco and call on FIFA to enforce its rules equally on all teams participating in the World Cup.
What happened to Morocco in this competition may happen to other African teams in the future. Therefore, it is incumbent on all African members of FIFA to speak with one voice and demand that the World’s football governing body treats African teams with respect and justice.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis