Sports

FIFA intervene as chaos stalks AFCON qualifiers

FIFA president Gianni Infantino

Robson Sharuko

Senior Sports Editor

FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, says they are discussing with European countries to find ways of how African players can be released for international commitments without flouting the Covid-19 protocols in place in those nations.

 His comments follow another day of high drama, with the Senegalese Football Federation accusing the leaders of France top two leagues of discrimination in a stunning fallout from the chaos stalking this month’s 2021 AFCON qualifiers.

‘‘We’re living in a difficult situation, especially in Europe, with regards to Covid-19,’’ Infantino said.

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‘‘Health remains a priority. We’re currently in contact with Government to find a solution.’’

The leaders of French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs voted unanimously, this week, to bar their African players from travelling to their home countries, for the final two Nations Cup qualifiers, this month.

But, this has sparked a furious backlash, across the continent, with the Senegalese football leaders leading the protests and accusing the two French leagues, where dozens of some of Africa’s best footballers ply their trade, of discrimination.

Although the Lions of Teranga have already qualified, for the next AFCON finals, it’s a measure of how they are serious, about their national team brand, they want to win every match they play, by fielding their best players possible.

That such a strong protest should come from the Senegalese is a key development given that it shows the fallout has now slipped into the corridors of the new CAF leadership.

The leader of the Senegalese Football Federation, Augustin Senghor, is now the second most powerful man in African football after he became the first vice-president, of CAF, in Rabat, Morocco, last week.

This means that concerns by his country, and many other nations like Zimbabwe, who are being forced to play in those qualifiers without some of their best players, will also be passed on to new CAF boss, Patrice Motsepe.

The Herald have been leading a campaign for the two AFCON qualifiers, this month, to be moved to a later date, and this has been receiving support, from some of the most powerful figures, on the continent.

On Thursday, the Senegalese, one of Africa’s strongest football nation, said it was unfair that 12 of their players, who had been called up to play in this month’s qualifiers, will be affected by the decision by the French clubs.

FIFA empowered the clubs when they role that, should players returning to their bases from national duty, face isolation of more than five days, wherever they ply their trade, their clubs have the right to bar them from representing their countries.

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And, this week, the French clubs agreed not to release any of their African players.

“In this context, the clubs will not make available for selection, the foreign players summoned for matches outside the European Union during, the next international period in March,” the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs said.

However, the Senegalese said arrangements could have been made, where special waivers would have been given to the players, had the clubs decided to work closely with French authorities. “Taking all these considerations into account, we would be grateful if you, in view of the very short deadlines and the damage incurred, kindly take the appropriate measures for the release, by the French professional clubs, players summoned by the Senegalese Football Federation,” the Senegalese football governing body said.

“In addition to the damage that this may cause, relative to the non-participation of the 12 players summoned by the Lions coach, it seems to me to highlight the totally discriminatory nature of this measure, with regard to the statutory provisions and FIFA regulations and European legislation, on equality and contractual freedom for players.

“Taking all these considerations into account, we would be grateful if you, in view of the very short deadlines and the damage incurred, kindly take the appropriate measures for the release, by the French professional clubs, players regularly summoned by the Senegalese Football Federation.

“In addition, it should also be recalled that the FIFA Code 1749 that precedes the temporary amendments on the provision of players, for the representative teams of the associations, do not apply if a specific exemption from the competent authorities is granted to the players.’’

Morocco national team coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, said the African national team coaches need to come together and fight this injustice, since it was their careers, and the future of their national teams, which were gambled with by such measures.

He said he was unhappy and wanted “coaches of African national teams to mobilise, and fight against the FIFA decision to allow European clubs not to release African players for the AFCON qualifiers.

“I am quite skeptical about this circular, why do we make a difference between African players and European players? This quarantine is only a pretext to prevent players from coming to play for their countries.

“FIFA has touched an article that it should never have touched, in terms of relations between clubs and national teams. If, today, we prevent the players from coming for this camp, what will happen tomorrow for the AFCON (finals)?

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“It’s not going to end there.’’

Saïd Ali Saïd Athouman, the president of the Comorian Football Federation, said it was a sad day for African football and for his country with their national team, who are set to miss some of their key players, on the verge of qualifying for the AFCON finals for the first time.

The plight of the Moroccans was even reported in the influential French daily sports newspaper, L’Euipe, yesterday.

Two of the most influential Zimbabwean players, Tino Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi, will not feature in the final qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia because of the prohibitions by the French authorities.

Warriors skipper, Knowledge Musona, is expected to arrive home on Monday and will lead the team against the Zebras in Francistown next week.

The Turkey-based duo of Teenage Hadebe and Alec Mudimu are scheduled to arrive home on Tuesday.

Yesterday, Warriors coach named a revised squad, which features only one local player, goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda.

Team manager, Wellington Mpandare, said there was still a chance United States-based ‘keeper, Tatenda Mkuruva, could be released for national duty. If that happens, he will join another United States-based player, defender, Tendai Jirira, who has been cleared to travel home for the two qualifiers. “Everything is set and the players will go into a bubble once they arrive. We hope everyone will be in camp a day before our departure, with the guys from Turkey, likely to arrive last.

“The match is in Francistown, so the hosts have worked on the logistics to get us there once we arrive in Gaborone from South Africa, it is sorted,” said Mpandare.

 Warriors Squad

Talbert Shumba, Ariel Sibanda, Martin Mapisa, Jimmy Dzingai, Alec Mudimu, Teenage Hadebe, Divine Lunga, Tendai Jirira, Victor Kamhuka, Romario Matova, Butholezwe Ncube, Perfect Chikwende, Last Jesi, Takudzwa Chimwemwe, Ovidy Karuru, Tafadzwa Rusike, Kuda Mahachi, Knowledge Musona, Tanaka Chinyahara, Thabani Kamusoko, Terrence Dzvukamanja, Knox Mtizwa, Evans Rusike.

HERALD