The referee at the centre of controversy in the AFCON 2021 match between Tunisia and Mali has said that he feared for his life after reportedly suffering heatstroke during the game.
Janny Sikazwe spoke to journalists in Zambia after returning to his home country, saying he was relieved to have gone back home alive.
“I have seen people going for duties outside the country and come back in a casket. I was very close to coming back like that. I was lucky I didn’t go into a coma. It would have been a very different story,” he said.
Sikazwe said doctors told him he was close to going into a coma due to the heat, adding that he believed God told him to end the match early.
“The doctors told me my body was not cooling down. It would have been just a little time before [I would have gone] into a coma, and that would have been the end,” he said.
“I think God told me to end the match. He saved me.”
Sikazwe explained they began the game despite the extreme conditions and how, despite struggling with the equipment, he soldiered on.
“The weather was so hot, and the humidity was about 85%. After the warm-up, I felt the [conditions] were something else. We were trying to drink water but you could not feel the water quenching you, nothing,” he said.
“But we [match officials] believe we are soldiers and we go and fight. Everything I was putting on was hot. Even the communication equipment, I wanted to throw it away. It was so hot.”
Sikazwe was criticised for not informing his assistants about his condition and instead ending the match early twice.
“I started getting confused. I could not hear anybody. I reached the point where I could start hearing some noise and I thought someone was communicating with me and people were telling me ‘no you ended the match’. It was a very strange situation.
“I was going through my head to find who told me to end the match. Maybe I was talking to myself, I don’t know. That is how bad the situation was.”
Referee Sikazwe astonishingly blew the final whistle in the 85th minute of the game with Mali ahead 1-0, which caused some confusion among the players and the technical teams of both sides.
After he was corrected on his call and restarted the match, the Zambian referee then harshly sent off Malian forward, El Bilal Toure.
Video: Referee blows final whistle in 85th and 89th minutes.
— The African Voice (@teddyeugene) January 12, 2022
Despite being asked by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to review the decision, Sikazwe upheld his earlier call.
The referee then bafflingly blew his whistle before the 90th-minute mark, prompting a very upset Tunisian bench to empty onto the field to confront the official.
Sikazwe had to be escorted off the field by security personnel as the Tunisian players and technical staff continued to pursue him.
It was a surprising decision from the referee to end the match without any stoppage time, as the second half had seen nine substitutions, a cooling break and two relatively lengthy VAR checks.
A decision was then taken for the match to resume for five more minutes, with the officials and the Malian team returning to the pitch.
However, the Tunisians refused to play and after waiting for a while, the referee blew for full-time for the third time in the match.
A CAF official told Egyptian media afterwards that Sikazwe had suffered a heat stroke.
“The referee had sunstroke, which affected his decisions in the game,” Essam Abdul Fattah said.
“After the game, he needed to go to the hospital because the weather was so hot.”
CAF then threw out a complaint lodged by Tunisia following the controversial match.
“We will do whatever it takes to defend the rights of the national team. We are not children,” Tunisian Football Federation official, Hussein Jenaieh said after they lodged their protest.
CAF, however, threw out the complaint.
In a brief statement that did not state how the decision was arrived at, CAF said its Organising Committee had ruled in favour of Mali and awarded the West African nation a 1-0 win.
“After examining the protest of Tunisia and all the match officials report, the Organising Committee decided the following; To dismiss the protest lodged by the Tunisian team and to homologate the match result as 1-0 in favour of Mali,” the statement said.