A top-flight striker felled by a stray bullet, the suspension of the league and claims about the arrest of several prominent club bosses were the immediate effects on football of the first week of Tunisia’s “people’s revolution”.
Club Africain’s Amir Akrout underwent emergency surgery after being hit in the chest while on the balcony of his apartment watching a clash between rival security forces in the street below.
The incident occurred at the height of the protests which led to the rapid overthrow of Tunisia’s authoritarian regime – which had placed great store in the success of its football teams. All-powerful president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali had to flee, along with his much-despised second wife, Leila Trabelsi, whose relatives were alleged to have carved up the country’s economy between them and who held an iron grip on everyday life.
Akrout, 27, who doctors have now declared out of danger, had a spell in the Bundesliga with Freiburg and played in Saudi Arabia for Al Wahda before returning to Tunisia in 2009.
Even more of a discussion point in the small north African country – that has long punched above its weight in football terms because of the enthusiastic backing of the Ben Ali regime – was the reported arrest of former FIFA executive committee member Slim Chiboub, which was loudly trumpeted on Al Jazeera but later turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
Chiboub was married to one of Ben Ali’s daughters – albeit from the deposed dictator’s first marriage. He spent a four-year term on the FIFA ExCo and is a former president of all-conquering Esperance. He remains president of the country’s Olympic committee and was fortunate to be in Dubai at the time of the revolution, which has seen the arrest of more than 30 members of Ben Ali’s family.
Chiboub rose to prominence as the organiser of the 1994 African Nations Cup finals. But he was widely detested for the way in which he manipulated the fortunes of Esperance. The Tunis-based club is infamous for using every trick in the book to sway results in its favour, and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) used to cringe at Chiboub’s persistent attempts to influence refereeing appointments and constant sniping at decisions that did not go his club’s way.
Esperance bleated so often that their own fans also came to believe there was a permanent conspiracy against them. When they were soundly beaten by TP Mazembe in last year’s African Champions League Final it was portrayed as a massive plot against the Tunisian club and culminated in ugly insults directed at CAF president Issa Hayatou as he tried to hand the trophy to the Congolese side at the end of the second leg in Tunis in November.
Chiboub was elected to the FIFA executive at the congress in his hometown in 2004, but was ejected four years later when he showed little fight against Hani Abou Rida of Egypt and moved into the Olympic arena.
As the troubles broke out, Chiboub quickly worked the Tunisian media from Dubai to distance himself from his father-in-law. Among his claims was that he had had little to do with Ben Ali over the last decade and that he and his family had been kept out the inner sanctum by Trabelsi.
“I never got my hands dirty like the band of gangsters who surrounded the president,” he claimed, despite extensive business interests in the banking, telecommunications and media sector. “All Tunisia knows that I have had no connection with the ousted president for 11 years.”
Among those allegedly arrested were AS Marsa president Montasser Maherzi, who is married to Trabelsi’s sister, and nephew Imed Trabelsi, a power-broker at Club Africain.
The Tunisian league has been suspended until the end of February. In the last game to be played, second-place Etoile Sahel beat leaders Esperance 5-1. Goals from Danilo Petrolli Bueno, Francileudo Dos Santos, Lasaad Jaziri, Aymen Abdennour and Yacouba Diarra gave the club from Sousse their biggest-ever win over their rivals and closed the gap between the two to one point.