Equatorial Guinea have got off lightly, for sure. And Morocco have got what they deserved. But once again on Friday it became clear that nothing in African football is ever simple.
The worthies of the Confederation of African Football met to discuss the shameful scenes of the previous night’s second semi-final in the Cup of Nations, when a missile-throwing mob caused the game to be suspended – and to mete out a punishment against Morocco, who withdrew as hosts at short notice.
Ghana eventually won 3-0 but their victory against the host nation, Equatorial Guinea, was overshadowed by the scenes of violence that were beamed around the world.
Thirty-six people were injured, and the game was held up for 40 minutes. More cock-ups in a tournament already besmirched by a refereeing scandal that ended with the man in the middle sent home in disgrace. That game, too, featured Equatorial Guinea, and ended with Tunisian players attempting to assault the incompetent official.
After Thursday’s game, Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi said: “We need to see some stiff action taken by Caf. This kind of behaviour is just unacceptable.” His organisation felt they were “in a war zone” because of the unruly fans.
Eighteen hours later Nyantyaki must have calmed down because he, along with the 17 other members of the Caf executive, oversaw a whitewash of a disciplinary hearing, then signed his name to a unanimous pledge of support and thanks for Issa Hayatou, their leader for nearly 30 years.
One of the supporting statements for Hayatou declared that the 2015 Cup of Nations was only taking place at all because of the “interpersonal skills” of the Caf president.
When Morocco withdrew as hosts late last year Hayatou was able to negotiate a rescue package during discussions with Africa’s longest-serving ruler Teodoro Obiang. Equatorial Guinea’s president agreed to host the tournament as fears of playing it in Asia, or not at all, receded. All Hayatou got in return was criticism from the world’s press for dealing with a dictator. Hence the vote of support from his fellow “excellencies” – as they like to call themselves when they get to the top in Caf.
Hayatou felt he owed Obiang a favour, and so he did. But how big a favour? A $100,000 fine and suspended “behind-closed-doors” sanction were the only punishment for the hosts. The Tunisians had it worse – a smaller fine but a threat of expulsion – and none of their fans threw any rocks. Their federation’s president, Wadie Jary, was banned from all Caf activities after accusing Caf of bias and unethical behaviour.
As for Morocco, they felt the full force of Hayatou’s wrath. They could justifiably be blamed for everything that went wrong. They pulled out because of their fears over Ebola, but they hosted every qualifying game played by Guinea, one of the three nations where the virus is prevalent. It made no sense.
The Moroccans were banned from the next two Cup of Nations tournaments, in 2017 and 2019, and fined $1m with a further $8.05m in damages. “The executive committee considered that, contrary to what the Royal Moroccan Football Federation cited, force majeure cannot be accepted for the benefit of the federation,” said a Caf statement.
The Equatoguineans did a magnificent job of organising everything at less than two months’ notice. New pitches flown in from Spain, upgraded training facilities and stadiums, HD-standard floodlights, communications networks, team hotels, and much, much more.
Until Thursday night. One bad incident of crowd trouble should not ruin everything. But it will. It has.
The inescapable view while watching the bottles rain down on Ghana’s fans and players was that Equatorial Guinea, much like Tunisia and allegedly Gabon, are bad losers – very, very bad losers.
They were furious at having a referee from Gabon, the neighbouring country whose team, they claimed, had trashed the hosts’ plane that flew them home after they had been knocked out by the hosts. The claim has been vehemently denied by Gabon’s federation. The fans were furious when a penalty – a blatant, straightforward penalty – was awarded against their team shortly before half-time. They could not cope with defeat, so they started chucking missiles at the few hundred Ghana fans.
Those fans eventually made it back to safety at Malabo airport, for the journey home to Accra. About 250 of them were flown in for the semi-final, thanks to a government subsidy of $165,000, according to reports in Ghana. They were all well connected – staff and friends of government organisations.
So, in the great scheme of things, what is worse: an African government spending a lot of public money to send 250 mates to a football match during a time of nationwide economic hardship, or a group of fans throwing missiles at the same match? It’s never simple, African football.