The Confederation of African Football was angrier with the insinuations and accusations of a fix than it was with players trying to assault a referee and it has again missed another good opportunity to clamp down on one of the scourges of the African game.
Violent attacks on match officials remains commonplace but the scenes that followed Tunisia’s defeat last weekend in the quarter finals of the African Nations Cup proved a major embarrassment for a tournament that, up to then, had been going along swimmingly.
But instead of taking the chance to impose heavy sanctions and restore credibility, the CAF has again bottled the opportunity, focusing rather on its own injured pride than the sanctity of the game.
The awarding of a dubious penalty to hosts Equatorial Guinea, just when they were on their way out of the tournament, added considerable fuel to an already niggly match, which then went into 30 minutes of extra time punctuated by frequent stoppages, skirmishes on the field and an extraordinary brawl between the two benches.
It was interspersed with a wonder goal that delivered a shock triumph for the small host nation, further incensing the already livid Tunisians, so much so that at the end of the game they chased the referee down the tunnel, kicking and punching him.
But video evidence of this was not used to punish those involved and to send a clear message of “no tolerance”.
Instead, Tunisia were fined $50 000 for their overall poor behaviour, with the CAF noting in particular their post-match insinuations that it had all been a set-up to allow Equatorial Guinea to go through.
That the referee made a very poor decision is obvious and many have jumped to the conclusion he took money from the hosts. Given his past track record, that is unlikely but his career is now over after being slapped with a six-month ban and culled from Africa’s elite panel.
But those who chased him and kicked him have got off lightly as has happened so often in the past in the African game. Violent scenes, particularly those involving North African sides, make a mockery of African football but there is little political will to stamp it out.
A lengthy suspension for the several Tunisian players who swung blows at the ref, as a phalanx of security policemen hurried him off the pitch, would have sent a signal that the sanctity of the game is at the heart of the CAF’s mission, not the fragile egos of politicians.