Robson Sharuko in Cairo, Egypt
CAF has provided the biggest hint that it is not investigating the DR Congo and will not throw them out of the 2019 Afcon finals after unveiling an official training programme for the Leopards in Alexandria from this evening ahead of their Round of 16 match against Madagascar.
Reports emanating from Madagascar on Wednesday had suggested an emergency process was underway at Caf in which the Congolese were being investigated, with the Leopards facing possible expulsion from this tournament and a hefty fine, for allegedly influencing the result of their final Group A showdown against Zimbabwe.
Wealthy Congolese businessman and politician, Moise Katumbi, who owns five-time African club champions TP Mazembe, was fingered in the sensational reports as the conductor of that orchestra amid allegations he could have corruptly influenced Zimbabwe goalkeeper, Elvis Chipezeze, to underperform and gift the Leopards with a favourable result.
The reports from unnamed sources even went on to portray a graphic picture of a spectacular underworld operation in which Katumbi was accused of having approached the ‘keeper at the Cairo hotel the Warriors were staying, Le Meridien, which they shared with their Congolese counterparts.
The draw for where the visiting teams, with two from each group being paired at the same hotel, were done after the draw for the 2019 Afcon finals in April this year.
The allegations also claimed attempts by Katumbi, or those representing him, to transfer a substantial amount of money into the goalkeeper’s account were blocked by an Egyptian bank that raised the red flag because of the huge amount involved, and paralysed the transaction.
Chipezeze’s poor showing in the match, in which he gifted the Congolese the opener, conceded a penalty and then fumbled what appeared a weak effort into the path of an opponent for the fourth goal, has given rise, especially on social media, to belief that there could be substance in the allegations.
That the Warriors, who were very competitive when they narrowly lost 0-1 to Egypt and dominated a 1-1 draw against Uganda, could collapse to a 0-4 defeat at the hands of the Congolese, has also supported the theory in many circles that the result of the final group game was tainted.
However, Caf has provided the Congolese with the greenlight to continue with their preparations, which resume in Alexandria today, for their round of 16 match against Madagascar in a message pregnant with a lot of meaning, that the DRC’s stay at this tournament has received official clearance from the organisers.
Expectations had been high all day yesterday that Caf officials would address issues related to the reports that first emerged in Madagascar, but sources here revealed the organisation’s media team decided against such an approach because “it’s such a flimsy case that doesn’t warrant any response from them”.
“That explains why all your correspondence to Nathalie Rabe (the Caf communications director) and all her staff asking for their response since Wednesday have not even drawn the courtesy of a reaction because they feel that doing so would be tantamount to dignifying this.
“If the case had even arisen, because it would be deemed sensitive given the zero tolerance by both Caf and Fifa when it comes to such issues, there is a quick fix to it and laid down processes for dealing with that, especially when it comes to a high-profile tournament like this one, and you would have heard from the authorities a long time ago.
“Even the protocol staff, who have to organise such things like the media commitments, training facilities and accommodation for the teams that would still be in the tournament, would have been advised to put on hold everything related to the Congolese and their training schedule would not appear on the Caf programme.”
Caf media officials, who have the responsibility to organise all the media-related issues, including press conferences for the participating teams, would also had been alerted of any changes, but this wasn’t done yesterday.
“We are from our meeting and they have said nothing about it as DRC are in Alexandria (and) everything is going on as usual,” an official told our Harare Bureau.
There is one more critical process, according to the officials, which would have been triggered into motion, with the case being handed top priority and swiftly being dragged before the Caf disciplinary committee to “ensure there is no further disruption to the tournament in the event one party, including that (DRC) which might still be in the tournament, has to be disciplined and kicked out”.
However, the case that is before the Caf Disciplinary Committee and set for a hearing on Monday next week is that of a complaint that was raised by the Ethiopian Football Federation, on behalf of their referee Bamlak Tessema, who is alleged to have been head-butted and attacked viciously by Morocco Football Federation president, Faouzi Lekjaa.
Lekjaa, who is also the Caf third vice-president, is believed to have been incensed by the outcome of the Caf Confederation Cup final in which Egyptian giants, Zamalek, beat Moroccan club RS Berkane in the final.
He is also the chairman of RS Berkane.
The Congolese, who have been based in Cairo since their arrival for this Afcon finals, were given the greenlight by Caf, who organise the internal travel arrangement for the teams once they are here, to travel to Alexandria which will be their base ahead of their battle against Madagascar on Sunday.
Caf also included the Congolese in its official programme of the training sessions scheduled for Alexandria today.
The two-time African champions will train at 6PM today at the Ittihad Club in Smouha, a part of Alexandria.
Defending champions Cameroon will train at the same time at the Alexandria University Stadium.
Madagascar will train at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Annex at 5.30PM and Nigeria will train at the Aast University Stadium at 5.30PM.