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Why Caf needs to act decisively to stop hooliganism
Robert Madoi
Posted: 3 years 2 weeks

Crowd trouble during the semifinal between Equatorial Guinea and Ghana left a bitter taste in the mouth (Photo: AFP).

Last night’s 2015 Afcon semifinal between Equatorial Guinea and Ghana is widely believed to have left a slur on the reputation of African football. The match, which ended in a resounding 3-0 win for four-time African champions, Ghana, was punctuated with grisly bouts of crowd trouble.

The Ghanaian FA likened the Estadio de Malabo to “a war zone” as reprehensible acts from the stands forced play to be abandoned for more than 30 minutes. It was yet another timely reminder, if we needed any, that crowd trouble in Africa is not a scar as much as it is a wound.

Although not pervasive by any stretch of imagination, harrowing tales scripted by hooliganism in African football continue to mirror a Hydra that is yet to meet its Hercules. Memories of Cameroonian footballer, Albert Ebosse, dying after he was reportedly struck by an object thrown by fans during a domestic game in Algeria, are still fresh. It was in August of 2014 that Ebosse succumbed to an injury that resulted from a strike to the head. The gangly striker had scored the consolation goal — his 17th in the Algerian topflight that season — during JS Kabylie’s 2-1 loss to USM Alger. He was just 24.

The incident provoked outrage from many, including Caf president, Issa Hayatou, who in a statement wrote thus: “African football cannot be the breeding ground for hooliganism whatsoever. We expect exemplary sanctions to be taken against this grave act of violence”.

Albert Ebosse is one of the victims of hooliganism in African football (Photo: Getty Images)

An inquiry into Ebosse’s death would be launched in December of 2014 when new post-mortem tests startlingly revealed that the Cameroonian footballed died as a result of a beating. He wasn’t quite hit by a projectile from the stands as initially thought.

The post-mortem results revealed that Ebosse suffered “a blow to the head” that led to “an indentation of the skull”. Upper body injuries also pointed to “signs of struggle”. There were also the telltale wound to the shoulder and “rupture of cervical vertebrae” to go along with.

The exemplary sanctions that Hayatou called for? Well, JS Kabylie got a two-year ban from pan-African competitions. They also play their domestic matches in empty stadiums. Sounds like a slap on the wrist, I’m afraid. The will to fight hooliganism in African football is decidedly frail. Despite it never working, African football continues to have a mechanism that metes out collective as opposed to individual punishments. Fans in parts of Europe and the Americas are closely monitored by a ticketing and seating arrangement system. This translates into them not enjoying impunity in case of crowd trouble. Ticket and seat numbers mean that those that choose to be errant can be subjected to the full force of the law. A strong presence of CCTV cameras also means that concerned parties in parts of Europe and the Americas are not seen to be doing more than a nip and tuck when it comes to fighting hooliganism.

Issa Hayatou has failed to act decisively (Internet photo).

Caf should devise ways of steering African football in that direction. Hooliganism is a beast that needs to be tamed, and the sooner Africa comes to this realisation, the better. A great deal of African football fans see no harm in hooliganism so much so that they are now suckers for masochism. Many reckon that the absence of hooliganism dilutes fandom. It quite sad, mad and bad that such thinking is seeping into the ethos of African football, and that Caf is looking on with arms folded. Something radical needs to be done. Ghana FA president, Kwesi Nyantakyi, said that they were “lucky” last night not to have “lost any lives”. But as Ebosse’s tragic case showed last year, you can not always be lucky. Caf needs to act decisively!