Everything wrong with the AFCON
Note: This is an opinion piece
While the Africa Cup Of Nations (AFCON) final might be hogging the limelight for being a face-off between Liverpool FC teammates Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah representing Senegal and Egypt respectively, this iteration of the AFCON, held in Cameroon might be one of the most controversial international tournaments ever held. From highly controversial refereeing and corruption, to security concerns thanks to Civil-war and Boko Haram, a lot has already gone south with the biennial tournament.
Tragedy at the Olembe
24 January proved to be a disastrous day for the city of Yaounde, adding to the nightclub fire episode in the same city just the previous day. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the attendance for sports-related events in the host country Cameroon had been capped at 80% of the venue.
This led to a gruesome stampede, which would eventually lead to the loss of 8 lives. Besides the deceased, 38 more people were injured. CAF president Patrice Motsepe took responsibility but also duly blamed the organising committee for the disaster. Reporters at ESPN had noticed movement of stretcher-ridden people even three hours after the kickoff.
While there have been instances of controversial decisions by referees, one particular match in the tournament provided a distinct angle altogether: Group F fixture between Tunisia and Mali. An interesting fact about the referee Janny Sikazwe is that he had earlier been suspended by CAF for corruption in November 2018. This is how the match turned out to be:
48’ - Tunisian midfielder Ellyes Skhiri blocks a shot with his arms. Though he and his teammates protested that the hand was in a natural position, the referee awarded a penalty to Mali. Ibrahima Kone scores from the spot.
85’ - Sikazwe calls it full-time just like that. With no timer in the stadium, there is a wave of confusion while the Tunisian dugout protests sharply. The referee directs the play to continue after realising his mistake.
87’ - A controversial red card is given to Mali’s El Bilal Toure for a tackle on Dylan Bronn. The tackle did not even warrant a yellow card and VAR advised Sikazwe to review his decision, but he stuck to it.
89:49’ - While the fourth official waits to signal for added time, Sikazwe does not oblige and blows the full-time whistle again. This time, the coach and staff of Tunisia clearly stormed towards the referee in deep-rooted dissatisfaction. Eventually, security officials had to surround the match officials.
20 minutes after the contentious full-time whistle, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was speaking to the press when he was told that the match would be completed and after 40 minutes, the decision to resume the game went through . However, this time the Tunisian team did not turn up and the coach Mondher Kebaier held that the players were taking an ice bath for 35 before they were called back. This created a sort of dilemma for the fourth official Helder Martins de Carvalho, who had replaced Sikazwe to prevent any further action. Stuck in a helpless situation, he blew the ‘final’ whistle .
The bigger fish in the pond
When it comes to AFCON, problems such as questionable refereeing start seeming like dog fights in a bad neighbourhood. If you focus your attention on it too much, you start losing sight of the bigger, larger, more gruesome problems that characterise the cup.
Cameroon was initially supposed to hold the 2019 AFCON but couldn’t due to a separatist insurgency as well as insufficient architecture. Due to this, the cup was given to Egypt for hosting after scandals turning up left, right and centre. Scandals, yes, a word which perfectly sums up the Administration of not on the the CAF (Confederation of African Football) but also the Government of Cameroon, embroiled in corruption scandals going to the very top of the ladder, to Paul Biya, the Cameroonian President, incumbent for over 6 decades on the top spot. Paul Biya is the face of everything wrong with the country, from rigged elections, journalist assassinations, military insurgencies and corruption, Biya is checking all boxes in the Self imposed Dictatorship Bingo.
$2.1 Billion Dollars for $300 Million Dollars of Infrastructure.
That heading tells you everything you need to know about the allocation of funds that has taken place in Cameroon for the AFCON. The Biya government spent 7 times more on sports infrastructure then they needed to as per an exiled columnist from Cameroon. The rest of the money? Poof. Gone in corruption, supposedly in the pockets of the higher ups, or to fund the Civil war, but certainly not towards sports infrastructure, or in the hands of the people. The economy of Cameroon is on its knees, the people of Cameroon don’t seem to be any better off. Holding the AFCON, a dream for the football infatuated country that is Cameroon has become their biggest nightmare, with the general cost of holding an International tournament, made worse with the corruption, the AFCON 2021 is an economic failure for the country. Its only purpose being to boost the reputation of the incumbent President.
So as Paul Biya tries to silence separatists, spend hundreds of millions NOT on public welfare, rig elections, the people of Cameroon cry. Cameroon is a country with limitless potential for welfare, it has one of the highest working force populations in Africa and is blessed with natural resources, it should, in all common sense, be one of the most prosperous nations in the continent, but is instead, a place with 40% of its population below the poverty line, horrible infrastructure, and a prime example of what not to do when blessed with natural wealth.
Coming back to the Tournament itself, this story of corruption on part of the host nation and the organising body is a story which the AFCON is all too familiar with. With these scandals popping up every two years when a tournament comes around. The human rights violations, the inadequate allocation of funds, the maladministration, are just some of the things which make this iteration of the AFCON, the most controversial one to date.
The only silver lining in this oh so black cloud, is that the Cameroonians get to see their national team face off with Egypt in the AFCON Finals tonight, i.e. 7th February, 12:30 A.M. IST. Let’s sit back, enjoy the beautiful game and hope that the future is kinder for the people of Cameroon.
~ Prabhpreet Singh & Shujat Ali Shahid
Sources: ESPN, DailyMail, Reuters, Journal du Cameroun