Hours Before Verdict, Tensions Rise Again in the Wydad-EST Case

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Rabat – Tomorrow, July 31, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) will deliver its final verdict on the ongoing stand-off between Morocco’s Wydad of Casablanca (WAC) and Tunisia’s Esperance of Tunis (EST). 

With the case being described as “the first of its kind,” CAS’s ruling in the WAC-EST case is set to create a precedent in the history of sports arbitration, regardless of which side wins the legal, off-the-ground battle.  

The two clubs played a two-leg African Champions League final in late May. They played first in Rabat on May 24, and then in Rades, a suburb of Tunis, on May 31. Both games were riddled with incidents of controversial refereeing. 

The standout act of the controversy-soaked debacle came in the second leg, when the referee ended the game after a mere ten minutes in the second half. What followed was much messier. 

Faced with what they now call a very delicate, multifaceted case, the legal teams representing both clubs have unanimously insisted on the issue being “a very complex one,” even as each of the legal teams as prays that CAS’ verdict will be in its favor.

Speaking yesterday to Moroccan sports channel Arryadia TV after long hours hearing that saw the two legal teams of try to argue their case or question the credibility of their opponent’s, representatives of both sides expressed perplexity, uncertainty, and hope. 

“This is a very complex case,” said Despina Mavromati, a Greek defense attorney for EST, when asked about her side’s odds of winning. Such is the complexity of the “this scandal,” she went to add, that both in terms of content and procedure, the verdict is bound to be unpredictable. There has never been a similar case before, Mavromati recalled.

“The case is the first of its kind,” Tarik Mossadek, a Moroccan lawyer on Wydad’s defense team, said. Echoing Mavromati’s perplexity as to what to expect from CAS’s verdict, he added that “the case is very complicated.” The Moroccan attorney hopes, however, that Wydad wins the case. He said he is “optimistic.”

For his part, Rida Touiti, the EST’s legal affairs chief, tried to downplay the tense emotions surrounding the whole thing. 

He played down the gravity of the growing enmity, saying that Wydad and EST “know each other well” and intend to keep their relations warm, regardless of the verdict. He insisted there was “a good atmosphere” during yesterday’s hearing. “I would like to tell our Moroccan friends that this is not a war,” Touiti said.

The Tunisian official’s peace and fraternity offer may have been sincere. But so much has happened between the two teams in the weeks since their two memorably scandalous matches that “good atmosphere” comes nowhere close to describing the state of affairs as they await CAS’ final decision.

When it announced two weeks ago that it would settle the issue by the end of this month, CAS clearly noted that neither of the clubs wanted a rematch, as previously ruled by CAF, the ruling body of African football.