Tunisia’s 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification was a see-saw battle. They began well with three wins from three games before a draw in Mauritania and defeat in Equatorial Guinea threatened to stunt their campaign.
They, however, rebounded to emerge triumphant in their final match, a 3-1 home win against Zambia, to finish the group as winners, two points above Equatorial Guinea.
It left Tunisia with all to play for in the third round, where the 10 group winners faced off over two legs. They scraped past Mali 1-0 on aggregate, thanks to a Moussa Sissako own goal in the first leg in Bamako.
Now, all of those efforts could go in vain.
FIFA has warned the Tunisian Football Federation that it could ban its national team from participating in the World Cup if the government interferes with the body’s working.
What has happened?
Tunisia’s youth and sports minister Kamel Deguiche issued a statement threatening to “dissolve the federal bureaux”, which can also include the football federation.
FIFA, whose rules state that member associations should be free of any third-party or government involvement, acted swiftly. The world body’s director of member associations, Kenny Jean-Marie, sent a letter to Tunisian Football Federation’s general secretary Wajdi Aouadi, asking for clarity on the comments.
The letter, according to reports, read: “State authorities’ attempts to interfere in the Tunisian Federation’s internal affairs and its threats to dissolve FTF’s office. In this regard, we would like to remind you that member associations of FIFA are legally obligated to conduct their affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties. Any failure to comply with these obligations may result in the imposition of penalties under the Fifa laws, including suspension of the relevant association.”
Fifa has asked for a reply to the letter by Friday.
Consequence of a suspension
To put it simply: Tunisia will not be able to take part in the World Cup, which begins in November 20, if its national body is suspended.
A Fifa ban also means that the Tunisian national team nor a club from the country will be allowed to can play in continental or international competitions.
It’s a situation similar to the one that occured in India earlier this year. One may recall that India had temporarily lost its hosting rights for the recently-concluded U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup because of a FIFA suspension.
Seeing that the Praful Patel-led executive committee was ineligible of being in control of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), India’s Supreme Court (SC) appointed the Committee of Administrators (CoA) to run the federation.
As is the case with Tunisia, this was against FIFA rules that member associations should be free of any third-party or government involvement.
India’s ban was only lifted after the CoA was dissolved and a new committee was elected with Kalyan Choubey as president.
Are any other federations currently banned?
Kenya and Zimbabwe are currently serving suspensions due to the same rules of “undue influence from third parties”.
The Pakistan Football Federation was also suspended in 2021 due to third-party influence.
If Tunisia do manage to make it to the World Cup, an extremely tough test awaits Tunisia. They are placed in Group D alongside Australia, Denmark, and defending champions France. It’s their second consecutive World Cup and sixth overall.
They will take courage from their qualifying campaign to try and make it out of the group stage for the first time ever.
So far, they have two wins to their name. In 2018, they defeated Panama 2-1 in Russia. Their first win had come in 1978, a 3-1 victory over Mexico. That win made them the first Arab or African nation to win a match at a Fifa World Cup.