As stated in CAF Champions League regulations, the host team shall be declared loser by 2 to zero “in the case of the absence of the designated referees.”
While Moroccan soccer fans were hoping for a better referee performance during the second leg of the final, a worse decision was made by referee Bakary Gassama, who refused to review Walid El Karti’s dismissed strike through the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), a necessary element during the competition.
VAR had been used against Wydad Casablanca previously during the first leg, resulting in a penalty against WAC and deprivation of a legitimate goal. The game finished with a 1-1 draw, leaving Moroccan fans disappointed that referee performance did not improve.
To their surprise, Wydad Casablanca and fans who followed the players to Tunisia faced a nightmare from CAF, Espérance Tunis fans, VAR, and referees.
After Esperance Tunis took the lead in the 41st minute with a goal by Mohamed Belaili, the Moroccan team responded with a legitimate goal in the 58th minute, which was rejected by referee Gassama.
Wydad strongly protested the decision, urging the referee to use VAR to check whether their goal was not legitimate as an equalizer.
The referees, however, were embarrassed after they argued that the VAR is not available due to technical issues. Wydad abandoned the game after being denied its goal due to the injustice.
The requirement of VAR
Since VAR is a necessary element during the game, Moroccan football fans were angry after being deprived of a legitimate goal due to technical issues with VAR in a key game like the African Champions League final.
VAR already caused trouble for another referee during the first leg. CAF was urged to suspend one the referee due to poor decisions against Wydad Casablanca.
Paragraph 15 of Article 2 in CAF Champions League regulations stipulates that “If it is established that the absence of the designated referees was the fault of the host association, the host team shall be declared loser by 2 to zero and shall be eliminated from the competition, regardless of the result obtained on the field.”
Now, in the absolute absence of the technology during the game, football fans and observers are now speculating corruption within the CAF after the VAR controversy.
Speculation of bias confirmed with testimony
The fans’ speculation about a lobby inside CAF has been echoed by the former President of Esperance Tunis Slim Chiboub, who said that Tunisia has an influence inside CAF.
After the first leg of the final, Slim Chiboub acknowledged that refereeing mistakes in the first leg disappointed Wydad Casablanca.
Chiboub also hinted that Tunisian sporting authorities have been influencing decisions in CAF competitions.
“We do influence…We have always been influencing in the CAF,” Chiboub said, referring to Tunisia’s influence on CAF decisions.
“We are there to influence. When the federation put a member in [in the confederation] isn’t for protecting its interests? When someone is elected [to the CAF board], he goes there to serve the interests of his country; if there is a good referee he brings him, if there was any bad referee he should put pressure so he won’t be appointed…. This is the mission done behind the scenes.”