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Stuck in a Dilemma Amid Crisis and a Looming FIFA Ban: The Case of Club Africain

One-time African greats and now counting losses, Club Africain of Tunisia have gone from integral to peripheral as crisis rocks the outfit.

One-time African greats and now counting losses, Club Africain of Tunisia have gone from integral to peripheral as crisis rocks the outfit.

They last won the domestic league four years ago, the Tunisian Super Cup 1979, the Arab Champions League 1997, the CAF Champions League in 1991.

The Tunisian Cup is the only gong to have entered their trophy cabinet last year after it last embraced a winners’ medal in 2014.

The downward trajectory in their stock is a reflection of the crisis dogging the ins of an outfit previously feared for their attacking instinct and considered the tablets to Esperance’s never-seems-to-be-ending dominance. That happened, with the 13 premier league gong all but a glaring testament. However, glory days will be well behind them if the club is to be gauged on the yardstick of trophies. CAF Champions League football returns to the Stade Olympique Rades this month against Rwanda’s APR on the back of a two-term absence –a lapse showing the rate at which the North Africans have plummeted in substance. As is the adage “the rot of a fish begins with the head”, the team’s board, this moment, bears the hallmark of a set up pulled in both directions as crisis takes over.

Perched in the 12th place in the 14-team standings with a mere five points in seven outings, the trouble with CA is so gigantic that there is growing fear over whether the Bed Jid Team won’t suffer demotion this campaign after 98 years of existence.

The momentum of this saga had been gathering, pouring all out onto the surface following the trial of businessman Slim Riahi.

The 46-year-old Bizerte-born is being made to answer to allegations of graft. Educated in the University of Tripoli and a British passport holder, Slim is accused of money laundering amongst other charges during his stay at the Libya capital.

Club Africain fans see the trial as a farce and a conspiracy of some sort against their club chairman who had to resign as a board member pending the conclusion of the indictment.

Riahi had said there is no going back to the club for him, prompting a quick mobilization by the side’s ex-players to save a desperation situation by drumming up support and funding from well-wishers and donors.

Though proceeds of this venture partly covered the club’s budget and helped ease worries, FIFA entered the scene threatening a sanction.

It turned out that the capital-based outfit had been sued to the world football governing body by former players over unpaid salaries.

Probing by FIFA found the Red and Whites guilty and asked it to pay its former players their dues totaling up to ten million dinars. The one-month deadline elapses in coming weeks which could mean the club risking being deducted up to 24 points if they fail to meet up the deadline.

In the heat of the moment, erstwhile chairman Slim came out this week repudiating assertions by his predecessors that he brought the club down to its knees during his five-year stint at the helm.

Offering suggestion for Club Africain to get out its shackles, Riahi said there is a need for a committee, independent of outside influence, to steer affairs of the club.

As a way forward, the businessman-cum-politician suggested the creation of another committee comprising three lawyers; one representing him, another the club’s interim’s set up and the third a non-partisan individual with FIFA as observers to establish the depth of Club Africain’s financial qualms.

This, he said, will help unravel the cause of the problems and perhaps win over FIFA’s sympathy for the club’s transparency regarding its internal matters.

What the club makes of the 46-year-old’s proposal remains to be seen.

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