FIFA's decision to order a World Cup qualifier to be replayed because of match-fixing by a crooked referee is unprecedented and unfair, according to the country stripped of a vital victory despite playing no role in the wrongdoing.
The South African Football Association said on Thursday it was considering appealing FIFA's order that the 2-1 win over Senegal last November is annulled and the game is replayed because Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was found guilty of manipulating the match.
Lamptey was banned for life. Although there are no complaints over his punishment, FIFA has effectively also penalized South Africa - and it could end its hopes of making it to the World Cup next year - despite confirming that neither team had any role in or knowledge of the fixing.
The case, not seen before in top-level soccer, centered on Lamptey's decision to give South Africa a penalty for a non-existent handball against Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The ball clearly struck Koulibaly on the knee and dropped to the ground. South Africa, which didn't even appeal for a penalty, scored from the spot kick and went on to win.
It's thought that Lamptey was acting on the orders of match-fixers organising illegal betting scams. FIFA has not provided full details of the case against the referee but said in a statement to The Associated Press that its findings against Lamptey took into account "reports of irregular betting activities from various international betting monitoring companies."
The upshot is South Africa has been stripped of its only win so far in the final round of qualifying in Africa. The game must be played again, FIFA said, possibly at the very end of the qualifiers in November.
FIFA's move is unfair for a number of reasons, the SAFA senior legal counsel told AP.
"For one, if you review the game, we did outplay Senegal on the day," Norman Arendse said. "By anyone's account we did deserve to win the game."
SAFA has also never been invited to make any representation or present its side in the case, Arendse said, a "miscarriage of justice" because the decision has adversely affected South Africa.
And Arendse, chairman of SAFA's legal committee, doesn't see why South Africa should pay the price for FIFA's decision to appoint Lamptey for the game when he had a history of suspicious performances.
"This is the part that hurts us," Arendse said. "The referee is chosen by the FIFA referees committee. So why don't they take responsibility? ... Why did they appoint him?"
The precedents for FIFA's decision are unclear, at best. Two high-profile similar cases give conflicting messages from FIFA:
- In 2005, FIFA ordered that a 2006 World Cup qualifier between Uzbekistan and Bahrain be replayed after the referee incorrectly gave a free kick to Bahrain because an Uzbekistan player encroached in the penalty area when a teammate was taking a penalty. Under the rules, the referee should have ordered the penalty to be retaken. FIFA called it a "technical error" by the official, scratched the result of the game, and ordered a replay.
- Yet in 2009, striker Thierry Henry's infamous and deliberate handball to set up the goal that sent France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland didn't earn the Irish team a replay despite it being clear the tie-deciding goal was scored in breach of the rules. Then, FIFA said the referee's decision in a game was final.
"That's the golden rule of football, isn't it?" Arendse said.
Not this time.
South Africa isn't even sure if it can appeal against FIFA's latest ruling. In initial correspondence with FIFA over an appeal, SAFA was told the decision was final and biding and could not be appealed, Arendse said. That contrasts with FIFA's own statement announcing the replay, when the world body said the decision still had to be ratified by the Organizing Committee for FIFA Competitions in Zurich next week.