Equatorial Guinea have been reinstated to the 2018 African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Ghana following the decision of the Appeals Board of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to dismiss their ban for fielding an ineligible player in an AWCON qualifier against Kenya.
The decision announced on Wednesday – just ten days to the start of the tournament, means Kenya’s participation in the tournament is uncertain.
The Equatoguineans had been thrown out of the tournament after they were found to have breached CAF rules and regulations over the fielding of an ineligible player – Annette Jacky Messomo – in a 2018 AWCON qualifying match against Kenya in June.
CAF’s Disciplinary Council had launched an investigation into Messomo after Kenya who had lost the two-legged qualifiers 3-2 on aggregate, filed a complaint to CAF about her eligibility.
The Disciplinary Council found Messomo to be ineligible on account of being a Cameroonian and on 8 September, CAF disqualified Equatorial Guinea from the 2018 AWCON and handed their place to Kenya. The oil-rich West African country was also hit with a $100,000 fine.
Equatorial Guinea, however, appealed that decision and in a four-point ruling delivered on Wednesday 7 November, CAF’s Appeals Board overturned the ban and declared Annette Jacky Messomo “eligible to play for the National Team of Equatorial Guinea”. The Appeals Board also stated that Equatorial Guinea should be “reintegrated” in the 2018 AWCON.
With two-time champions Equatorial Guinea reinstated to the tournament, it is unclear where that leaves Kenya given that neither CAF nor the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) have yet to make any statements regarding Kenyan’s predicament.
Kenya could push for compensation from CAF for expenses incurred towards preparing for the tournament seeing how CAF allowed them in when all legal processes open to Equatorial Guinea had not been exhausted.
Alternatively, the Kenyans could also decide to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) in which case, the entire tournament would probably be put on hold pending the resolution of the case.
An added complication is the fact that Equatorial Guinea have also been expelled from the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France after FIFA’s disciplinary committee found that they used 10 ineligible players as well as “forged and falsified documents” in their unsuccessful bid to qualify for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
The 2018 AWCON also doubles as a qualifying tournament for the 2019 Women’s World Cup with the three best-placed teams qualifying for the Mundial. With Equatorial Guinea not being eligible for the World Cup, it could mean that should they finish among the three best teams at the AWCON, the fourth best team assumes the qualification slot although CAF is yet to provide any clarity in relation to that eventuality.
Equatorial Guinea has acquired a reputation of being incorrigible football cheats and has often found itself in trouble with football authorities over its tendency to cut corners and bend rules in a bid to achieve football success. Few countries possess a rap sheet as long and as disgraceful as theirs especially in relation to fielding ineligible players.
Their women’s team were disqualified from the London Olympics in 2012 for fielding an ineligible player. In 2013, the men’s national team were stripped of a World Cup qualifying victory over Cape Verde by FIFA after it was discovered that none of the starting line-up was born in Equatorial Guinea.
The women’s team were also disqualified from the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon after they fielded an ineligible player in a qualifying match against Mali. They were also initially banned from the next two AWCONs in 2018 and 2020 but the ban was lifted by CAF’s executive committee after they appealed to CAS.
In addition to being banned for the 2019 Women World Cup, the women’s team were also barred by FIFA from participating in the 2020 Olympics qualifying programme for fielding a Brazil-born player who had two passports and two birth certificates.
The 2018 African Women Cup of Nations has been fraught with uncertainty ever since the Ghana Football Association was dissolved following the corruption web that ensnared former GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi.
The decision to reinstate Equatorial Guinea with just ten days to the start of the tournament introduces a whole new level of doubt but for Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia there is no doubt that Group B just got a whole lot tougher.