African football has in the past seven days been reduced to its basest level and desecrated. It all started when a painfully topical cat-and-mouse drama ended up with the European firm Hawk-Eye failing to make VAR services available for the Caf Champions League final.
What ensued was a farce that bordered on the whimsical. Wydad Casablanca players, caught in a mood of frustration after having a goal wrongly chalked off, walked off the pitch in protest.
Untroubled by the evident strain of anger percolating through their opponents, Espérance de Tunis players wildly celebrated winning African club football’s showpiece tournament on a technicality.
There was one more twist to come though. Days later, the Tunisian club was told that the result, which had confirmed a fourth African title, had been expunged. The controversial return leg would be replayed after all. This time on neutral ground.
The anticlimactic end and replay contrasted starkly with the Uefa Champions League final that was flawlessly staged in the Spanish capital a day after the debacle in Tunis. For Ahmad Ahmad, president of Africa’s football governing body since 2017, this was the first time he was publicly having controversy virtually at his doorstep. It would get worse. More on that later.
Ahmad’s credibility might have been shot to pieces, but not many thought this likely when the unassuming Malagasy beat strongman Issa Hayatou to the Caf presidency. The new Caf president went about framing himself as a reformist by doing all the right things.
He drew lots of praise after changing the calendar for the inter-club competitions and Africa Cup of Nations finals. His move to get former players more involved in all things Caf also underpinned the reformist wave that had supposedly reached the shore of African football.
But there was always a feeling that things could unravel. Ahmad had after all been implicated for receiving money from Qatar during the 2022 Fifa World Cup bidding process. He was but squeaky clean. That notwithstanding, the Malagasy’s sensational arrest at his hotel in Paris last Thursday did more than keep his faithful walking the floor nights. It came as something of a surprise to many.
It is understood that the 59-year-old was questioned by French authorities investigating corruption allegations. Ahmad’s questioning follows widespread reporting in April that Caf’s secretary general Amr Fahey had been sacked after he furnished Fifa’s ethics committee with a document detailing financial irregularities and sexual harassment. African football just can’t seem to catch a lucky break!
No surprises as sports gets another raw deal
Matia Kasaija’s budget to be read next week won’t be loaded with possibilities for sport. The 368-paged 2019/2020 Budget Framework Paper, candid to the point of being mean, already alerted us to the customary snub taken -- from the looks of it -- without a stab of regret.
The number crunching has revealed something so badly bruised. Such is the disfigurement that the general consensus is that it is an outrage that deserves to be condemned. And condemn it the sports fraternity has.
There was an air of resignation in Moses Magogo’s submission for one. The Fufa president was disheartened to learn that the Budget Framework Paper made it its business to say close to nothing about sports. When not joined at the hip with education, the paper paid sports not the slightest attention as 16 mentions across 368 pages attest.
If these are not slim pickings, then your columnist does not know what is! But then again, this development is neither interestingly new nor unusual. Sports always gets dealt a bad hand, and it does not do itself any favours by playing it badly. Taking up a paltry Shs 20 billion (some 0.078%) of the Shs 26-trillion budget suggests that sports will be left with little appetite for any indulgences in the 2019/2020 financial year. It is far from being that that goes in on a pair of eights and comes out with aces full.
Beyond the number crunching, President Museveni recently got something of a first person account of just how barely sports holds it together. It is a public secret that Uganda and Rwanda feel such a strong animosity toward each other. Attacks against the apparatus of either government have grown in both their frequency and ferocity over the past couple of months.
So when it was revealed that President Museveni has a couple of grandchildren on the squad set to represent Uganda at the Fiba Africa Under-16 Nations Championship Qualifiers, tongues were always bound to wag. The fascinating subplot of course is that the basketball qualifying event will be staged in, you’ve guessed right, the Rwandan capital of Kigali. This though is just half of the story.
The other half is that by the time of writing this piece Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations was hard up on cash. The trip to Kigali risked squaring on quicksand. The deficit is the true index of what most Ugandan sports bodies go through. And it shows no signs of abating in the new financial year.
What we now know....
We know that Uganda plays Turkmenistan in an international friendly match today. The match, which will be played behind closed doors, take place at New York University in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi.
We know that Turkmenistan is an unknown quantity in international football. Ranked 136 by Fifa, some 57 places behind Uganda, many expect the Central Asian country to be no match for the Cranes. Maybe rightly so. Stranger things though have panned out in football. That much we know!