CAF LEAGUE TUSSLE: NEW CAS HOPE OPENS FOR MOROCCO’S WYDAD

Moroccan news outlet, Morocco World News has reported that the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), which had previously ruled against Wydad in the seemingly unending EST-Wydad scandal, is considering a new verdict that could back up Wydad’s claims.

The reports speak of “new evidence” that could swing yet another CAS “final verdict” in favour of the Moroccan club.

Wydad’s board was serious when they suggested last month that it would take the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and Tunisia’s EST exceptionally solid evidence to make them give up on their struggle to be announced as the “deserving winners” of the 2018-2019 African Champions League.

According to emerging reports, the unearthing of the new body of evidence is giving Wydad hope, weeks after both the “relevant bodies” of the CAF and the CAS ruled that the Moroccan club’s championships claims were untenable because its players refused to resume the match when they were losing 1-0.

The saga began when Tunisia’s EST hosted Wydad in late May for the second leg of the African Champions League final. The Tunisian club was leading by 1-0 when Wydad’s El Karti equalized at the beginning of the second half. 

But the referee initially–and wrongly–ruled out the goal for offside. Wydad players protested, asking that the referee use VAR to review the equalizing action.

There followed minutes of hot debates, only for the referee to stop the match more than 30 minutes before the normal timing.

CAF went on to declare EST as Champions, only to change its mind on the following day when “new evidence” suggested that the game had been mired in multiple irregularities, among which a late-minute dysfunctional VAR. 

EST’s claims were especially hit by accusations of influence-peddling and a recurrence of deliberate rigging of the VAR system ahead of important games.

While CAF had ruled for a rematch on a “neutral ground,” both clubs felt they deserved to win, with each of them seizing CAS for an independent, final verdict.

That phase of off-the-field legal battles was won by EST. But Wydad vehemently disagreed; until the emergence of new evidence recently, this sounded like the petulance of a bad loser. But the “new evidence” suggest the Moroccan club could be right after all. 

Among the new pile of evidence, according to reports, is damning footage indicating that Ahmad, the CAF president, was intimidated and “threatened” by the president of EST minutes before CAF’s first decision to hand the Tunisian the trophy.

Another complaint from Wydad is the “absence of a security mechanism” at the Rades stadium for both Wydadi players and supporters.

Most important in Wydad’s complaint, however, is the VAR argument. The Moroccan club considers that it is unfair that EST took advantage of VAR during the first leg in Rabat and later denied its Moroccan visitors the same opportunity. 

In the equally controversial first leg in Rabat, the Tunisian club was only able to sustain the 1-1 draw because, on two occasions–first a goal and then a penalty, both wrongly dismissed–the Egyptian referee of the first leg used VAR to make controversial calls in favour of EST.

 Not only was the VAR not functional during the second leg, Wydad has pointed out, but it was only later that both teams were reportedly told that the VAR system had “been deactivated” for the match. 

While CAS has “in principle” agreed to review the new evidence and make its final verdict accordingly, it now remains to be seen how CAF will accommodate whatever may come out of another CAS ruling, especially if the prospective final verdict annuls the previous final verdict. 

The African body, which is currently undergoing a series of reforms, has already been accused of inconsistency and self-ridicule after taking contradictory stances on the EST-Wydad saga. In the event of a CAS verdict favoring Wydad, the complex circumstances of the scandal suggest the beginning of another long saga of off-the-field arm wrestle between the two clubs.