Wafu Cup Retrospective: Character, connectivity and chaos part two

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Janito Carvalho of Cape Verde, Omar Ceesay of Gambia
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Ed Dove reveals the second part of his ‘behind the scenes’ experience of the 2019 Wafu Cup in Thies, Senegal

While the lights going out was one of the Wafu Cup’s low points that was seen by the watching world, many other near misses weren’t.

By this point, things had become trickier for coach Lartey, even though he had found a way of maintaining a line of communication with me.

“I’m now using the phone of my player Theo Nimely,” Robert reassured me, although quite how Theo was coping without being able to communicate home or even inform his family of his fortunes in Senegal was never addressed.

Mr Lartey had pulled rank, although the LFA officials back home didn’t appear to be too impressed either by the Lone Stars’ aborted opener or their coach’s technical plight. 

“I have to report back home by emails,” he continued. “There is no update on my phone. Our head of delegation refused to show up, so it makes it more difficult for me to communicate back home to the technical director of the FA.

“We’ll now go home before we can get our per diem for the tournament,” Robert continued, before sending me a photo of his poor Samsung, a spider’s web of shattered glass where a screen used to live. 

At least Theo’s phone had a good camera quality…

On day one, I tore down from the press box to the touchline during the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremony, as fans begun milling around the stadium, after spotting that three of the 16 nations’ flags were being paraded around upside down.

The Cape Verde flag was the wrong way round, which is, perhaps, an easy mistake to make. 

Togo, by contrast, much trickier not to get right, and Burkina Faso, whose flag depicts the green of the country’s agricultural riches, an inexcusable error — the kind which would have had Thomas Sankara turning in his grave!

The flags were unfurled, one by one, in the carpark, for me to evaluate, and either validate or repudiate.

The upside-down three — Cape Verde, Togo, Burkina Faso — were taken to one side, the tops of the flags were torn open, their erstwhile bottoms were stitched up, and they were re-attached to their masts. 

One potential regional crisis had been averted.

There was another near miss a week later, during Nigeria’s plate quarterfinal against Cape Verde.

After conducting a touchline interview with the islanders’ coach Janito Carvalho I glimpsed, out of the corner of my eye, Nigerian assistant referee Mimisen Agatha Iyorhe warming up, and I was enveloped by an unmistakable feeling of dread.

While I have no reason to doubt Ms. Iyorhe’s credibility or professionalism, the prospect of a refereeing team containing a Nigerian official giving a borderline decision in Nigeria’s favour during the contest was almost a guarantee of the kind of controversy and headlines that this tournament could do without…especially following the power cut.

As I barrelled into the press box to check what was going on, I found the assistant of the Wafu A General Secretary handing out the teamsheets and…sure enough…Ms. Iyorhe was named among the AAs. 

Fortunately, he passed the problem down to the General Coordinator, a serene Senegalese lady who didn’t break a sweat during the power cut, and her and the Gambian Match Commissioner quickly effectuated the change, duly replacing Ms. Iyorhe.

Match 13 of the tournament had very nearly been unlucky for some. 

Phones, technology, the uses and limitations thereof were a common subplot of the Wafu Cup, from the drone that flew above the Stade Lat Dior to give a unique perspective on the football, to the various technological issues that punctured the action.

Competing nations had the right, a gesture by the organisers and the production crew, to have access to their team’s matches — and those of their upcoming opponents — if they brought a USB stick or a memory drive to the stadium and waited the half hour for the Dutch technicians to upload the footage.

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The only condition was that the stick or the drive had to have 8GB of available data per match required, with a single match typically taking up 7.8GB of data.

Those teams who opted to make use of this facility by and large reaped the rewards; Benin left one of their delegation behind in Senegal in order to come back the day after their elimination to collect the footage for dissection in Porto Novo, while The Gambia were so keen to get hold of their elimination at the hands of Cape Verde that they commandeered a local journalist’s hard drive to make sure their final 90 minutes would be smuggled home.

It didn’t work out for everyone; the Burkina Faso official who brought four memory sticks — each with 4GB of available memory — was left disappointed, despite his robust defence of the maths.

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