I WATCHED images of drugged AS Vita players gasping for breath in the corridors of the Dar-es-Salaam national stadium last week with disbelief and I asked myself, “For how long is this going to go on?”
Last week Simba Sports Club qualified to the quarterfinals of the CAF Champions League after beating visiting Vita of the DRC 2-1, but as usual, the maltreatment of visiting teams in Tanzania overshadowed their victory.
Apparently, Vita players got intoxicated after inhaling an unknown substance spread in the visitors’ dressing room, so it is alleged, and I hope Vita has written ‘toothless’ CAF about these things.
The point is Simba is a good team with fairly good players by their standards, but they don’t deserve to qualify if the CAF ‘FAIR PLAY’ rhetoric was fairly applied to all teams participating in the competition.
The reason Simba wins all its home games is not because they can’t be beaten on their home ground. It’s because their home ground is very close to becoming the graveyard of African football where skill and tactic alone doesn’t win them games, hooliganism, intimidation and assault on visiting players and officials hands them victories.
I am not saying this because of what I saw happened to Vita, no. It’s what I witnessed first-hand when Zambia’s Nkana FC also visited Simba in the same competition at preliminary stage.
First Nkana had to pay for a training ground because there was none organised by the host.
On the eve of the match, unruly security personnel manning the main gate into the stadium, denied the visiting team entry for the mandatory ‘feel of the turf’ at match venue as prescribed in the CAF competitions’ guidelines.
It took some time after frantic phone calls by Nkana CEO Charles Chakatazya to his Simba colleague for them to allow the team entry.
On the day of the match all hell broke loose, as a small bus carrying the Nkana security personnel was attacked just as it made its way inside the stadium, leaving head of security Ernest Chikwanda with a deep cut on his eye which needed stitches. Bravely, he managed to watch the game with blood dripping from the cut, staining his shirt.
When Nkana players disembarked from the bus and as they were walking through the barricade on the way to the dressing rooms singing songs of praise, they met a sea of red of Simba supporters. Surprisingly and unprovoked, midfielder Jacob Ngulube was slapped and several players were attacked by supporters clad in ‘security’ vests as police watched aimlessly as players and Nkana officials fought running battles.
The match commissioner and the general coordinator were called in to stop the madness.
When the team finally managed to get in, team manager Daniel Jere and his kit managers returned in a dash covering their mouths and noses as they could not stand the unpleasant strong gas-like stench from the dressing room.
Again the commissioner was called in and was forced by Nkana officials to enter the dressing room himself and see if it was fit for humans. He too, could not stand the unknown substance and asked the hosts to provide an alternative dressing room, but Nkana players opted to change in the pathways because the new room they were provided with was equally smelly.
The referee did his pre-match inspections from those corridors.
A Tanzanian colleague, a journalist who I asked to accompany me into the dressing room to verify the story told me, “My friend, here they only fear Arabs from North Africa just ignore it.”
Those that entered the dressing room like Nkana vice-president Patrick Njovu reported that his skin had started itching.
To add to that, when Nkana players went to warm up, they discovered that their drinking water had vanished in thin air and the weather was extremely hot.
Again Chakatazya confronted the match officials including the match commissioner, and they had to surrender a case of bottled water meant for referees for Nkana players to drink at warm-up.
Some officials left their team warming up and went to buy water in the market which they reimbursed the referees.
Surely, the referee should have this in his report, or the coordinator and commissioner, what did CAF do? Nothing, and AS Vita was the next victim.
So when I saw a Vita official threatening to report to CAF and circulate those disturbing images, I asked myself, for how long will Simba’s madness be tolerated?
Now, imagine upcoming players with no experience being beaten or tortured in that manner before kick-off, how can they perform.
Two weeks ago, Zesco United went to play Sudanese side Al Hilal and several members of their team complained about poor lighting tactics on the goal area where goalkeeper Jacob Banda was operating from.
Most people underrated the extent of that but I witnessed it first hand last week when Nkana visited Hilal Omdurman Stadium when Nkana officials spent the first half quarrelling with CAF officials after only two bulbs on one pole on Nkana goalie Allan Chibwe’s area was on at the start of the match.
After the home took the lead as the switch on-and-off intensified, power went off completely for 18 minutes on the visitors’ half.
It took the match commissioner Mike Leti from Uganda and Mazen Ahmed Marzouk, the general coordinator from Egypt to threaten the hosts that the match would end prematurely and hand victory to the visitors if the blackouts persistent – at this point I was clear the dim-lighting on Chibwe’s area was on purpose because after the half time break, the lights were perfect including the problematic first half goal area.
Each set-piece given against the visiting side was an opportunity for Chibwe to endure razor-beam lighting in his eyes from the stands.
Given the freedom with which the Sudanese dimmed lights on the opponents’ half, it’s easy to conclude that not only Zesco and Nkana that have endured ‘playing in the dark’ in Khartoum. Others have too, and perhaps that’s the reason they boast of not losing at home.
Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane has publicly complained about the bullying and mistreatment his team has suffered at the hands of some North African teams.
There are several examples we can give in which teams from Zambia and others especially from the southern hemisphere have suffered for merely participating in CAF inter-club competitions.
Other countries even boast, “my friend, this is Africa”. What nonsense!
Do other clubs have a bigger voice than others despite participating in the same competition, paying equal amounts in statutory competition charges but in the end, others get a raw deal while others continue to be hyped as successful and so on and so forth?
For how long are some teams going to suffer at the hands of the untouchables? In any case, how can there be untouchables in the same competition playing by the same rules?
How is football going to grow in some regions if the same rule is applied differently based on who you are and where you come from?
Yes, there is more work to be done by other regions or individual countries to improve their game but again it will be difficult for that to happen if the ‘smaller’ ones feel unprotected by the very institution that is supposed to protect them. An institution adjudged to be biased against them.
CAF must not act like a toothless bulldog that barks but can’t bite otherwise the perception that there is corruption in the hierarchy of CAF will keep growing.
Curb the injustices in CAF competitions or you will be judged to be moribund. ACT now and let teams lose or win fairly. Then all can shout fair play.