Europe’s top clubs are threatening not to release players for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon over fears surrounding its COVID-19 health protocol. The European Club Association, which represents leading clubs across the continent, made its concerns known to FIFA in a letter seen by AFP. “With regards to applicable protocols, as far as we are aware, CAF (the Confederation of African football) has not yet made available a suitable medical and operational protocol for the AFCON tournament, in the absence of which clubs will not be able to release players for the tournament,” the ECA told football’s world governing body.
The Cup of Nations, which was already postponed last year due to the health crisis, is due to start in Cameroon on January 9 and run until February 6.
Many of Africa’s leading players are based at clubs in Europe, including Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City, Achraf Hakimi and Idrissa Gana Gueye of Paris Saint-Germain.
The ECA also raised concerns about the danger of players being unavailable for even longer periods due to the potential for travel restrictions or mandatory quarantine being introduced, in particular in relation to the emerging threat posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
According to FIFA’s rules for the release of players for international duty during the pandemic, clubs can retain players if “there is a mandatory quarantine of at least five days on arrival” in the place “where a national team match is supposed to take place” or when the player returns to his club.
An executive board meeting of the ECA — which represents almost 250 European clubs — on December 2 said these principles “must be strictly respected”, according to the letter sent to FIFA Deputy Secretary General Mattias Grafstroem.
“Should this not be the case…players (should) not be released for international duty”.
Clubs could lose players who are called up for the 24-team tournament from as early as December 27, which is particularly problematic for those based in England, where there is a busy schedule of matches over the holiday period in late December and early January.
“For certain clubs expected to release players, including English and French clubs, domestic competition matches are due to take place up until early January and hence the overlap of the 2022 AFCON release dates…are unmanageable,” added the ECA, whose chairman is Qatar’s Nasser al-Khelaifi, also the president of PSG.
CAF general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba is currently in Cameroon overseeing final preparations for the delayed tournament.
The organisation refused to comment on the ECA threat when contacted by AFP but, in an update on its website, said that Mosengo-Omba “urged everyone to work around the clock to ensure that everything is in place for the opening game”.
However, the pandemic would appear to pose a far bigger threat to the successful staging of the tournament than concerns about the host nation’s readiness.
The CAF update said its president, Patrice Motsepe, had been in discussions with the Cameroonian government “on sanitary approach and Covid-19 protocols”.
When contacted by AFP, a senior official in the Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) dismissed any suggestion the tournament could be called off as “fake news”.
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