A leaked letter from the company that manufactures the video assistant referee (VAR) system shows that the equipment meant to be used in Friday’s CAF Champions League final failed to arrive for the second leg of the ill-tempered decider between Esperance and Wydad Athletic in Tunis, Tunisia.
City Press has seen the letter – addressed to CAF, dated May 3 – from Ben Crossing, managing director of Hawk-Eye Innovations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, explaining that the kit was stuck in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. It blames an unnamed “third party” responsible for exporting and shipping the equipment for the non-delivery, while it also noted other efforts made in vain to get the equipment on the eve of the match.
What is not clear is if the fallback plan to ship a “server” from Spain – taken from the equipment that was going to be used in last night’s Uefa Champions League final in Madrid – materialised “hours before kickoff”, as per the undertaking made in the letter.
Technical glitches leading to Gambian referee Bakary Gassama being unable to review a disputed decision via VAR made the equipment the talking point of the drama-filled final.
“Hawk-Eye had arranged with a third party for one set of VAR equipment to be shipped from Riyadh to Tunis,” read the letter. “We were informed on May 23 that this equipment had been picked up and we were provided with a draft air waybill and informed that the kit was due to leave Riyadh on Monday May 27. On Wednesday May 29, upon waiting for it to arrive at customs in Tunis, we were told it was still in Riyadh and would arrive on May 30.
“A backup solution of a server being brought from the Uefa Champions League final in Madrid is under way and we expect this server to arrive in the hours before kick-off. Hawk-Eye makes every effort to deliver VAR services to CAF flawlessly. We are extremely disappointed that these issues have occurred. We apologise unreservedly for this error,” concluded the letter.
. Meanwhile, SuperSport.com reports that CAF has called an urgent executive committee meeting for Tuesday to discuss the incident that saw African football’s image suffer another hefty blow after the final of the continent’s top club competition was abandoned after Wydad Casablanca of Morocco walked off to protest a refereeing decision. Amid embarrassing scenes at the Stade Olympique in Tunis, home side Esperance were declared winners of the African Champions League.
There was a stoppage of an hour and 25 minutes before the match was abandoned.
Wydad, who were 2-1 behind on aggregate, thought they had equalised just before the hour mark, but a header from Ismail El Haddad was disallowed for an infringement. Wydad players immediately surrounded the referee, demanding he review the decision and consult the VAR, which was supposed to be used for only the fourth time in an African club competition game.
Wydad substitutes and coaches ran on to the pitch to confront the referee, while a train of officials came to the side of the field to try to resolve the situation. Even CAF president Ahmad Ahmad spent almost 30 minutes in discussions with officials in a futile effort to get the game restarted.
A crowd of 60 000 was left waiting before the referee finally declared the contest in favour of the home team, who retained the title.
The VAR system also proved contentious in last week’s first leg in Morocco, with CAF this week banning referee Gehad Grisha of Egypt for six months after complaints from the Moroccans.
Wydad could now face a two-year ban from competing in continental club competitions, but a long history of leniency from African football’s governing body has undermined the effect of most of their past sanctions.
Violence has also become commonplace. Last month, a referee was attacked at the end of an African Confederation Cup semifinal.
There are also concerns about the Afcon, which kicks off on June 21 in Egypt, where match officials are often subjected to abuse.