Opinions have been divergent on the NFF resolve to likely seek legal redress on the ouster of the Super Eagles from the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. I align myself on at lease making a legal case study of the unfortunate situation.
Consider Morocco, which now becomes the first team to secure qualification to the 2017 tournament after the hosts, Gabon.
Applying Article 92 of the tournament’s Regulations, CAF on February 5, 2015 threw Morocco out of the 2017 and 2019 competitions for declining to host the 2015 edition.
It in addition imposed a regulatory fine of US$ 1 million and another sum of 8.05 million Euros in compensation for all material damage sustained by CAF, stake holders and partners as a result of the decision not to host the 2015 edition.
Morocco did not just sit down and watch. It responded saying Morocco “rejects all these sports and financial sanctions” and took the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
The ban was not only overturned, CAS also drastically reduced the fine of US$ 1 million to $50,000. On the additional eight million Euros compensation demanded by CAF, CAS even ruled that the issue “may be examined by another jurisdiction”.
The lesson here is that no decision by CAF is cast in stone. Now the issue at stake, outside the loss to Egypt, the primary reason for Nigeria’s ouster is the pulling out of Chad which ensures that no runners-up in Group G is eligible to contest for the duo slots available.
The CAF decision on the Chad issue is entrenched in Article 61 of the Regulations. It simply states: “If a team withdraws from the qualifying phase organised in groups, all its results shall be annulled (points, scored and conceded goals)”.
Articles 62 to 68 are largely on punitive measures on the team that withdraws. The only aspect where the Group G scenario comes in is in Article 63 which deals with two teams withdrawing from a group of four and thus reducing the contestants to two.
In that wise, the group employs a straight knock-out format. Article 69 offers a window. “The Organising Committee shall deal with cases of force majeure likely to be raised”.
Article 61 did not exclude the runners the remaining teams from being eligible as one of the two runners-up with the best results. That idea only came in via a CAF Executive Committee meeting, just as was in the case of sanctioning Morocco.
This is where and why the NFF should act. There are insinuations that Egypt, the seat of CAF, was privy to the decision of Chad pulling out.
Let us consider this scenario: What would have been the situation if Chad decides to pull out after Match Day 5 matches with just one match left for teams in group and point deduction adversely affects the lead team to the point that it loses its position. This is akin to creating unfair play in a supposedly fair play inspired competition.
In essence, when next draws are made to group teams, some may have to protest the inclusion of economically weak countries with poor football pedigree. Their misfortune and poverty may truncate the ambitions of the rest who may lose all they gained on the field.
Also a team in a group can actually induce a hopelessly last placed side to pull out so as to gain an undue advantage if the results of the weak side are cancelled. Since the pulling out was done after Chad had played all the other three teams in the group, CAF should consider awarding the points in all Chad games to its opponents so as to make whichever teams that comes second eligible for a runners-up contest.
If awarding six points to each of Egypt, Nigeria and Tanzania which had all won first leg matches against Chad is taken, Nigeria may still be able to amass 11 points to contest for the runners up position. The same applies to Tanzania which may target 10 points to also be in considering.
No team among the prospective 12 group runners-up will lay claim that its interest has been assailed by this suggestion. Rather, anything contrary to that will injure the interest of Nigeria and Tanzania. Chad which has lost three of its matches should be deemed to have lost the remaining matches and points and goals awarded respectively except in the case of Egypt which scored more than two goals against Chad.
In that wise, a fair play atmosphere is created. The above scenario should not be confused with that of Group I where the trio of Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Sudan are contesting. Gabon, a member of the group, is the host of the tournament and matches involving it are considered as friendly.
That was an illogical decision by CAF in the first instance. To organise a match, either at home or away, is an expensive venture in Africa as players have to be ferried from different locations in Europe and elsewhere. Which African country will pay millions in hard currency for a venture which fetches no point?
As it is, the unfair play created in Group G can snowball into a bigger problem should Tanzania beat Egypt at home and Nigeria offers minimal resistant to Tanzania on the last match day in September. What is the wisdom in Nigeria paying in hard currency to invite players from abroad to contest a match that is of no significance to the country? Will everybody not shout foul?
This is why a test case should be put up at CAS. The Executive Committee’s decision to annul the results of withdrawing teams and consequently deny runners-up any opportunity of qualifying remains a mere proclamation not rooted in the rules of the competition and therefore subject to challenge in a sports adjudication court.
Even if Nigeria loses out, it will be on record that we made attempt. A case test would have been made to guide against future unforeseen circumstances. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The Moroccan example is a case in point.
THE DAY AFTER
The dust is gradually settling over the ouster of Nigeria from the 2017 Africa Nations Cup. It is the third time in four editions that the country will be missing at the premier continental fiesta.
It is an irony that the Nigerian side which had previously almost effortlessly pick qualification tickets now had to struggle. Since July 1975 that Nigeria first scaled the qualification hurdle for the 1976 tournament, it had almost been taken for granted that Nigeria will always be there.
It might be argued that the Nigerian side featured at the 1963 edition in Ghana, it was by default following the disqualification of Guinea on account that the last leg was officiated by Guinean referees.
The only other time Nigeria failed at the qualification series before the missing out in 2012 was the 1986 edition when a last minute goal in Zambia sealed the then Green Eagles’ fate and ended the international career of Muda Lawal.
With almost persistent misses, it is my prayer that we don’t slide down to the level of both Uganda and Tanzania which will celebrate qualification ticket almost in the manner a country will react after winning the FIFA World Cup. Both countries have respectively gone 19 and 18 competitions in a row without qualification.
Uganda has gone 38 years without getting into the competition while Tanzania last featured in 1980 in Lagos – 36 years ago. May we never join their league.
It is pertinent to take a retrospective look on how we find ourselves in the current situation. The major cause was the inability to get the maximum points in Kaduna. That in turn was caused by momentary loss of concentration and clay-footed defenders. Take a look at the video recording of the goal scored by the Egyptians.
You will notice how the ball flicked past at least three Nigerian defenders before finding an unmarked Mohammed Sallah who was face-to-face with Carl Ikeme in goal.
Take another look at the goal conceded in Alexandria. The tap of the ball by Ramadan Sobhi went past no fewer than four Nigerian defenders before beating the outstretched Nigerian goalkeeper.
Perhaps also, hard luck was a factor. Imagine the 84th minute effort of substitute Victor Moses when he rounded the Egyptian keeper in Kaduna only for a defender, Rami Rabia to clear off the line what could have doubled the Nigerian lead.
That loss was to prove crucial seven minutes later when Mohammed Sallah silenced Nigerians.
Similar bad luck played out through the boot of Moses in the second match. He came close to giving Nigeria a life line four minutes to regulation time when his long range shot beat the goalkeeper and hit the post before straying across an unguarded goalpost.
THE MAGIC OF MARCH 31
Permit me to use the rhetoric “Words are not enough” to express my profound gratitude to all the 473 friends that sent birthday wishes via face book on March 31, which honestly speaking, should be Wisdom Day.
Consider the fact that the day after March 31 is globally acknowledged as “All Fools Day”. It means that on April 1, wisdom is at its lowest point and we stall building on wisdom which peaks on March 31. Wisdom therefore is at its peak on March 31. King Solomon in the Bible was endowed with divine wisdom. He must have been born on Wisdom Day – March 31. The initial: “KS” stands for King Solomon. I am glad to note that I also share the initials: “KS”. Somehow, it also stands for “King of Sports” which some people (with Solomonic inclinations) choose to call me.
By divine inspiration, I was Christened Solomon. March 31is the 90th day of the year (91st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There have been many events of significance on March 31. Perhaps one should recall some: It is on that date in 1499 that Pope Pius IV was born.
Others born on that date in different years are: King Henry II of France (1519), Pope Benedict XIV (1675), King Mariana Victoria of Spain (1718), King Frederick V of Denmark (1723), Major General Hassan Katsina, former Governor, Northern Region of Nigeria (1933) and America’s 45th Vice President, Al Gore (1948) among others.
There were landmark events also on March 31. The iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris was officially opened on March 31, 1889. The construction of the famous RMS Titanic began on March 31 in 1909. It was also on that date in 1966 that the Soviets launched Luna 10 which became the first space probe to enter the orbit around the Moon.
On that same day in 1970, to mark my birthday, Explorer 1, launched by the US, re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere after 12 years in orbit.