12th February, 2015
By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Unknown to many enthusiastic football fans across the African continent, the much anticipated African Cup of Nation (AFCON) semi final match, in the recently concluded AFCON 2015 at Equatorial Guinea, between Ghana and the host country, would be an anti climax. In a repulsive show of shame, a global television audience, in excess of half a billion, agonizingly watched as the globally acclaimed beautiful game was turned into a nauseating spectacle. In a manner that sadly evoked the primeval Dark Continent tagging of Africa, football fans miserably watched as Equatorial Guinea fans put up an indecent show that lasted for over twenty five minutes. With the unbearable reality of an imminent ousting from the competition cruelly staring them in the face, having been subdued by a more experienced and enterprising Ghanaian side which was leading 3 nil up to the 82nd minute of the ill-fated match, Equatorial Guinean fans suddenly threw caution to the wind and brazenly displayed the animalistic impulse in them to a bewildering global television viewing audience.
The scene that followed was better seen than imagined. With the aggressive precision and stride of a wounded lion, Equatorial Guinean fans swiftly moved into the section of the stadium occupied by Ghanaian fans with unmistaken evil intent. Sensing danger in a strange land, Ghanaian fans quickly dashed into a section of the field of play for safety. With the furious Equatorial Guinean fans hotly pursuing them with the instinct of one seeking for blood, security officials quickly formed a protective circle round the Ghanaian fans. Seeing that they have been hindered from getting at their targets, the now obviously exasperated Equatorial Guinean fans resorted to throwing all manner of dangerous objects at both Ghanaian players and fans that were now holed up on the playing turf. Match officials were also not spared in the ensuing melee. The height of this licentious and contemptible conduct was when the maddened Equatorial Guinean fans started throwing all manner of objects at a security surveillance helicopter that was apparently on a mission to rescue the situation. It was such a gory sight.
The repulsiveness of the horrific incident was further exacerbated by what one considers as the amateurish and awkward manner it was handled by CAF and its officials. For one, it still beats one’s imagination as to why the disgraceful incident was allowed to last so long. One is equally perplexed that the event was allowed to go on air for the moment it lasted. With such unfolding disorderly and unmanageable panorama, especially with its harsh security implication on all concerned, one expected CAF officials to have outrightly called off the match. Rather, needless efforts were made to ensure that the match was completed, petulantly at the expense of the safety of human lives.
And eventually, when the over twenty-five minutes drama of the absurd was finally brought under a precarious control, CAF went on to further add another bizarre comedy to the plot. Before the match was interrupted, 82 minutes of football action had already been witnessed, meaning that the match was only eight minutes away from regulation time. Sadly, when the centre referee signalled for play to start again, against all expectations, the game was called off after just three minutes of action. The implication is that the match, which ought to have lasted for ninety minutes excluding extra time, was five minutes short of the standard duration. The question now is: what did CAF hope to achieve by putting the lives of players, fans and officials at risk for over twenty five minutes just to resume play and stopped it again after three minutes? How logical is this? Is it not in the statue of CAF that the centre referee, after consultation with the match commissioner, could call off a disrupted match over security concerns?
On a general scale, aside this ugly incident, the AFCON 2015 did not in any way project the image of the game in Africa in good stead. The competition was marred by poor officiating, technical deficiency and maladministration. The quarter final match between the host, Equatorial Guinea, and Tunisia was also ruined by poor officiating and unruly behaviour by both Tunisian players and their officials. It was so bad that CAF hammer had to fall on Tunisia and the centre referee who handled the match in such a questionable and unprofessional manner. The quality of performance by players and the technical depth of coaches at the biennial African soccer fiesta equally leave much to be desired. Also, issues bordering on poor hotel accommodation, bad playing turfs, and poor crowd control and terrible travel arrangement, among others, made the soccer fiesta a dreary show.
The disgusting spectacle at the just concluded AFCON 2015 only goes to strengthen the position of many soccer pundits that the continental soccer body, CAF, needs to go through fundamental restructuring. The general organisation of the game in the continent remains appalling. CAF’s penchant for dictatorial tendency is not also helping matters. It will be recalled that in the wake of the Ebola crisis in Africa and Morocco’s subsequent withdrawal as hosts of the competition, rational calls that were made for CAF to postpone the championship were inexplicably rebuffed by the soccer ruling body. CAF’s insistence on going ahead with the competition, against all odds, has done more damage than good to its own image as well as that of the game in Africa. All that Morocco asked for was for the Ebola crisis to abate. If CAF had heeded that call, with benefit of hindsight, now that the Ebola situation in the continent had improved, Morocco would have hosted a better tournament.
Apparently, the Isa Hayatou-led soccer body seems to have lost the capacity to move African soccer forward. Having been in the saddle for close to three decades, perhaps, it is time for Hayatou to step aside and allow CAF to have a feel of the much needed breath of fresh air. Though Equatorial Guinea must be commended for taking up the responsibility to host the completion at such a short notice, it is obvious the country was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. CAF should apologise to Africans for the embarrassment its shoddy handling of AFCON 2015 has caused the continent. Africa, surely, deserves a fairer deal.
Meanwhile, congratulations to the Elephants of Ivory Coast for winning the coveted AFCON 2015 trophy. It certainly feels great to be champions again after several years of near misses!
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja