Goal or no goal? Legal Explainer of the CAF protest by Tanzania Young Africans vs Mamelodi Sundowns

Apr 23, 2024 | News

Analysing the protest sitting before the Confederation of African Football (“CAF”), which was launched by the Tanzanian Young Africans Sports Club against Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club and the match officials on allegations of administrative error and match-fixing.

Introduction:

Whilst Mamelodi Sundowns’ supporters may have left the stadium in jubilation on Friday, 5 April 2024, many football fans were left in confusion after what seemed to be a legitimate goal was denied by the match officials. Mamelodi Sundowns FC claimed a 3-2 victory on penalties against Young Africans SC, which victory enabled Sundowns to secure a spot for itself in the semi-finals of the 2024 CAF Champions League.

Many have come to learn that Sundowns’ victory may be short-lived as Young Africans has elected to file a protest to CAF on allegations of administrative error and match-fixing in respect of the match as they allege to have been denied a legitimate goal which occurred during the 59th minute of the match.

This article seeks to provide a legal analysis of the protest sitting before CAF and possible remedies flowing from the CAF Champions League Regulations.

Issue:

Young Africans SC approached CAF on allegations that their Champions League game against Mamelodi Sundowns FC was manipulated by match officials. The match was highlighted by an incident where the Tanzanians were denied what looked like a legitimate goal even after the Video Assistant Referee (“VAR”) consultation.

The Tanzanian Young Africans SC allege that “there was a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the match in favour of Mamelodi Sundowns FC, and thereby constituting a serious case of match-fixing”. The Young Africans SC further made a submission that there was “selective use of VAR, primarily focusing on fouls committed by Young Africans SC for potential red cards whilst ignoring a legitimate goal-scoring opportunity”.

Legal analysis:

There is no doubt that the above-mentioned allegations raise a serious concern regarding the integrity of refereeing standards and the effectiveness of VAR in ensuring fair play principles in football competitions in Africa. Rule XVI(1) of the CAF Champions League Regulations places an obligation onto the Confederation to establish a fact-finding enquiry into the veracity of these allegations and to further make a determination in the interest of integrity and fairness.[1]

A goal scored

Law 10(1) of the International Football Association Board (“IFAB”) Laws of the Game 2023 – 24 provides that a goal is scored when the entire circumference of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goal posts and under the cross bar, provided that no offence has been committed by the team scoring the goal.[2] It is with no doubt that during the 59th minute of the match in question, Young Africans SC had not committed any offence that would otherwise render its goal inadmissible. However, what seemed like a legitimate goal was scored when the ball hit the cross bar and further hit the ground on or after the goal line. As to whether the entire circumference of the ball had passed over the goal line, was subject to the determination of match officials. Upon consultation of the Video Assistant Referee (“VAR”), the match officials rendered the goal inadmissible. A reasonable inference can be drawn in that this decision was premised on the basis that the entire circumference of the ball had not passed over the goal line.   

Match-fixing

Professor Ian Blackshaw submits that match-fixing occurs when there is a deliberate act of losing sports matches, or playing them in such a way as to achieve a pre-determined outcome or result, by illegally manipulating the outcome or result for financial gain or some other unfair sporting benefit.[3] In view of the prevailing circumstances, submitting that the outcome of the match was manipulated and/or was pre-determined is far-fetched. As many would have witnessed, Mamelodi Sundowns FC won 3-2 on penalties after their goalkeeper, Ronwen Williams, saved two of the five penalties each team was afforded. Comparative analysis informs us that a match that was manipulated and/or pre-determined would not have proceeded to penalties where the outcome of same is tantamount to swimming in an ocean whose depth is unknown – anything is possible. Further, it is worth noting that a party alleging that there may be potential acts of match-fixing in a sporting game bears the onus to prove their allegations. Such proof goes beyond blatant ignorance of goal-scoring opportunities by match officials.

Negligence

Blatant ignorance of goal-scoring opportunities in a football match by match officials amounts to negligence and/or incompetence. An allegation that ignorance of goal-scoring opportunities amounts to match-fixing may be misplaced and is unfortunate under the prevailing circumstances.

Potential remedies

Presently, CAF has the prerogative to suspend all subsequent matches (semi-finals) pending the outcome of this protest, which decision may have a negative impact on the logistical planning of the Champions League. Equally so, CAF may allow all subsequent matches to proceed as planned and depending on what its determination is at the conclusion of the enquiry, recommendations can be made in line with Rule XVI (3) of the CAF Champions League Regulations, which provides that:

“if the fraud is discovered after the start of the following round of the competition, the guilty team shall be eliminated from the competition in favour of its last opponent and will be suspended from all CAF competitions for a period of three years”.

Conclusion:

Whilst we may collectively agree that there may have been an error in respect of how Young Africans SC was denied a goal-scoring opportunity, we can equally agree that the match officials’ conduct constituted negligence and not necessarily match-fixing. In cases of match-fixing, the party alleging same bears the responsibility to demonstrate to the confederation how the outcome of the match was manipulated.

COMMENTARY BY:

Lesedi Mphahlele (Director) | lesedi.m@fwblaw.co.za

and Sello Ramanyana (Candidate Attorney)


[1] CAF Champions League Regulations

[2] IFAB Laws of the Game 2023-24

[3] I.Blackshaw “Match-fixing in sport: a top priority and ongoing challenge for sports governing bodies” 2013 De Jure 947.