The CAF chief said that Tunisia needed to pay for being the only country where VAR has been defective during important games.
Rabat – Ahmad Ahmad, the president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), has just given a muscular rebuttal to critics of CAF’s stance on the controversial Champions League final between Esperance de Tunis (EST) and Wydad of Casablanca.
In what France Football has described as a no-holds-barred interview, Ahmad doubled down on the decision to replay the second leg of the match between Wydad and EST.
There has been a flurry of criticism since CAF ruled for a rematch, with EST’s board threatening to seize “international instances” like FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). EST has protested against what it says is a scandalous and biased decision.
Ahmad has been unimpressed, however. Where EST saw a scandal, he saw the need to restore confidence in CAF’s ability to “rule responsibly” when faced with significant, hot button issues.
While unprecedented in African football, Ahmad said, the rematch move was a clear and thunderous message that the body in charge of monitoring the game on the continent will no longer admit a certain way of behaving from African clubs and federations.
“I tried to make everyone come to their senses,” Ahmad offered. He went to reveal that despite his efforts to maintain neutrality and fair-play in the course of the events that led to CAF’ final decision, he has received threats from Hamdi Meddeb, the EST president.
Ahmad did not dwell on the type of threats he has been subjected to. He was insistent, however, that EST should take the decision as a testimony of the near consensus in CAF circles that they have not been doing some things right.
Defective VAR was not a coincidence
He particularly hinted at the suspicion that ES Tunis deliberately neglected to attend to the functioning of the VAR system before the match against Wydad. For that, he argued, the rematch ruling comes as punishment and a message that teams which do not abide by CAF regulations should expect similar treatment in the future.
“What else could I do?” Ahmad answered when asked about the implications of a rematch in a fragile atmosphere. What about the potentially violent backlash from circles that may feel prejudiced by the ruling?
“Since last year, VAR has always been used in our tournaments [properly]. Only in Tunisia has the system been defective. I doubt that it was a coincidence. We can no longer accept that.”
Because of the biased refereeing controversy that marked the first leg between the two teams, CAF needed to “take serious measures” to signal that “we can no longer afford confusions because of a defective VAR.”
Ahmad’s statements, a damning thrashing of ES Tunis’ accusations of pro-Morocco bias, comes on the heels of surging tensions between Moroccan and Tunisian fans. After CAF opted for a rematch, the EST-Wydad confrontation took extra-sporting proportions, with politicians joining in to propel the enmity to new heights.
The CAF chair’s interview also comes days ahead of the much-anticipated 2019 CAN.
Tunisia and Morocco are among the tournament’s favorites, and the prospect of a knockout stage encounter between the two teams may yet morph into an extension of the ongoing hostility between the two nations’ most successful football clubs.
Meanwhile, Ahmad has high expectations for this year’s CAN tournament.
With the quality and depth of squads, as well as the extension of participation from 16 to 24 teams, he argued, this year’s contest may be the most exciting ever organized. “With the likes of Salah, Mane, Ziyech, Pepe, and Mahrez who have all been brilliant,” fans can expect a first-rate display of footballing quality.