South Africa’s footballing authorities are taking their battle off the field. Following Bafana Bafana’s controversial loss to Ghana on Sunday evening, the South African Football Association (Safa) has announced its intention to file a complaint against the game’s match officials.
Hugo Broos’s side entered the game at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium needing only a draw to advance to a 2022 World Cup qualification play-off. However, in the 31st minute, a corner was lofted into the South African box and Daniel Amartey fell to the ground in front of defender Rushine de Reuck. There appeared to be little to minimal contact, but referee Maguette Ndiaye promptly pointed to the penalty spot. Andre Ayew converted and the Black Stars held on for the win.
With the team set to embark on a three-hour bus drive back to Accra — from where they will fly home — Safa chief executive Tebogo Motlanthe announced that the association would be submitting a formal complaint.
“The match officials have decided the game, which is not supposed to happen,” he told journalists on the Safa media channel. “We as an association have decided that we will be writing to both CAF [Confederation of African Football] and Fifa. First to investigate how the game was handled. And secondly to also challenge some of these decisions.
“We will submit the full complaint which is supported by all the evidence which was there. That game either was indeed manipulated or the referees had done something wrong before that game, but we are very disheartened by their actions. We can’t leave it and let it destroy the players when we have the chance to challenge it,” Motlanthe added.
Fans, players and authorities alike will feel particularly incensed by the perceived injustice given it ended a promising qualification campaign. Whereas Bafana has floundered in previous attempts, this year the young team remained undefeated in matches against Ghana, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia before the weekend.
As it stands, 2002 represents the last World Cup South Africa has qualified for. The country had a guaranteed slot in 2010 by virtue of hosting the event.
Motlanthe further revealed that the association would be looking to draw on recent precedent set by Fifa: “Of course we are looking at the precedent whereby Fifa ordered us to replay Senegal and we think that if justice needs to be served the same decision should be taken against this Ghana game.”
The match in question saw Bafana beat Senegal 2-1 in November 2016. Three-minutes before half-time, South Africa was awarded a penalty for a highly-dubious handball which Thulani Hlatshwayo would score.
A later investigation found that suspicious betting activity took place precisely when the call was made. “[The referee] took intentional decisions with the sole purpose of facilitating a minimum number of goals to make certain bets successful,” Fifa concluded. Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was banned for life and the game was ordered to be replayed. Senegal won and ultimately qualified for the 2018 World Cup.
For Safa’s complaint to trigger any reconsideration of the result, the weekend’s officials will likely have to be found guilty of similar misconduct. Fifa rarely annuls results; usually only doing so when there is evidence of a gross manipulation of the rules outside of the pitch. Violent conduct aside, the final word on match decisions remains with the referee.
Opponents Ghana ironically offer another precedent. The Black Stars filed a complaint after having seemingly been denied a late winner unjustly by South African referee Daniel Bennett in a 2017 qualifier against Uganda. Fifa, however, quickly dismissed it. Ghana’s Football Association ensured Bennett was essentially blackballed by CAF but it did nothing to prevent Egypt from heading to the World Cup in their place.
Safa is currently collecting evidence for its own case and has promised to brief the media on Wednesday.