Senior Sports Editor
IT was the bombshell that finally shook African football, and brought the shame how Covid-19 was being transformed into a weapon on the continent, into the boardrooms of the game’s cartel of poor leaders.
With the game flying on autopilot, as its leaders find themselves battling a cocktail of challenges, including bans and looming sanctions, leadership has been a commodity very much in short supply.
And, with many of them stuck in the silly season of the forthcoming elections, set for March this year, it means some rogue elements have taken full advantage, to use Covid-19 as an extra weapon to fight the opposition.
This meant protests, from those who had fallen foul to these shenanigans, especially in the CAF inter-club competitions, fell on deaf ears.
Until the weekend, CAF president Ahmad Ahmad had been fighting a five-year ban, imposed by FIFA in November last year, for breaching the world football governing body’s code of ethics.
However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport threw Ahmad a lifeline when they set aside his ban, until early next month, pending the resolution of his appeal at sport’s ultimate organ for the determination of disputes.
Ahmad, whose reputation has been battered by corruption, resumed his role as CAF boss yesterday and is expected to officiate at the closing ceremony of the CHAN finals, in Cameroon, this coming weekend.
The Malagasy football official, though, remains barred, for now, from seeking re-election for the CAF presidency in elections set for next month.
The man who had replaced Ahmad, as acting president of CAF, Constant Omari, has also been barred by FIFA from seeking a position on the organisation’s powerful Executive Council because of pending investigations into his role in corruption.
With CAF virtually leaderless, the use of Covid-19 as a weapon, to ensure the playing field was not level in African football, went into overdrive.
However, things came to a head on Saturday, in the Cameroon city of Douala, when CAF were forced to intervene after an ugly row which, once again, highlighted how Covid-19 was being abused to weaken opponents.
Ahead of their CHAN finals quarter-final showdown against hosts Cameroon, the DRC were advised that 13 of their players, had tested positive for Covid-19.
Amid raging Congolese anger, CAF were forced to take the samples to a different laboratory and the number of positive cases suddenly, and mysteriously, shrunk to just two players, and the team’s physiotherapist.
Congolese coach, Florent Ibenge, whose side lost the match 1-2, gave a touching, if not sorry, tale of the state of African football right now.
“I was forced to take medications, when I was not sick. I never had Covid-19, but they said I was suffering from it,’’ he told the media.
“That is not good. I’m not the only one. I have players who never played, of which they did not have Covid-19. It is not normal. Football is all about joy and not to kill people.
“Yesterday results came out with 13 players positive for Covid-19. We contested the results and opted to do a new test.
“The results came out today and, in all our delegation, just three persons tested positive. It is a very bad image for Cameroon.’’
Ugandan newspaper, Daily Monitor, first warned that some dark artists were manipulating football results on the continent, using the pandemic as an excuse, in an article headlined — “How CAF clubs have ‘weaponised’ Covid,’’ and provided a template of how this was being done:
CAF rules say a team must present, at least, 15 players for a match. Host teams use this to ensure that visitors have fewer players and lose match by forfeiture.
Host teams also target certain players, in the visitor’s teams, and have them tested positive to miss out (featuring in a particular match).
Nigerian side’s Plateau United’s ordeal in Tanzania, where their two star players were ruled out of the second leg of their Champions League preliminary round tie against Simba SC, because they tested “positive’’ on arrival in Dar es Salaam, was highlighted as one of the cases.
The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria then took on the fight when Plateau United crashed 0-1 on aggregate and were eliminated by Simba SC.
“When the players and officials of Plateau United were tested in Nigeria for Covid-19, the result came out negative,’’ Plateau United coach, Abdul Maikaba, told the newspaper.
“On arriving in Tanzania, we presented the test results to the immigration officials.
“They now conducted another test on the team, five minutes before the game, and told the match commissioner that our two key players, who were supposed to start the game, tested positive.
“The entire team was surprised, but we could not complain to avoid CAF sanctions. I discovered that they picked out these two players, Sunday Adetunji and Ibrahim Abubakar because of the way they destabilised Simba FC players in the first leg.
“To make you understand that the people, who carried out the Covid-19 tests were biased, the name of our commissioner, who was registered as a member of the delegation, but did not travel with us because of government assignment, came out in the list of Covid-19 positive people.’’
The coach revealed that, after the game, they went to another hospital in Tanzania to test the players who were said to be Covid-19 positive, and the results came out negative.
FC Platinum were next to cry foul, when some of their key players were deemed ineligible to feature in the second leg of their Champions League match against Simba SC in Dar es Salaam, after they were said to have returned a Covid-19 positive result.
The results were handed to the Zvishavane side, just two hours before the match, forcing coach, Norman Mapeza, to make changes to his starting XI in a game in which the Zimbabwe champions crashed to a 0-4 defeat.
After the match, Simba SC coach, Sven Vandenbroeck, said “Corona can help, or will decide a lot of games in the future, and in the next months in the Champions League.”
The next day, he left the club.
Ghanaian powerhouse, Asante Kotoko, faced the same ordeal in Sudan when second of their players were said to have tested positive for Covid-19, leaving them without enough numbers to make a team for their Champions League match against Al Hilal.