Africa’s football governing body, CAF have been urged by Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet to postpone next month’s planned resumption of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON qualifiers due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Africa and Europe.
“It’s getting worse again, the virus is back and as a first priority we have to look after the health of the players and the staff and the people they come into contact with.”
The Gambia, like most African countries, draw the majority of their national team players from clubs in Europe and Saintfiet said travel back to Africa for them would be dangerous.
He was also concerned about FIFA’s decision to allow clubs to stop their players from travelling for internationals if they had to quarantine on their return.
“That then changes the fairness of the game. When you talk about the Nations Cup you talk about the best teams competing against each other. But if clubs refuse to let my players travel, or they are impacted by COVID, then there is a strong chance I have to pick players from the local league, which has not been played for months,” he told Reuters.
“I have 100 players based in Europe so you could imagine the strength of my side if I don’t have any of them to pick from.”
The Cup of Nations qualifiers have been on hold since March when they were initially postponed at the first outbreak of the worldwide pandemic.
The tournament finals have since been put back a year to January 2022 with the qualifiers due to resume in November and be completed next March.
Belgian Saintfiet, who has coached the national teams of six African countries, said it would be better to shift November’s double set of games to March and complete the qualifiers in June –- still six months ahead of the finals.
“You have to ensure that the quality of the qualifiers befits the status of the Nations Cup as the biggest tournament in Africa. Without being able to select all the players, it devalues the event.”
COVID-19 cases have impacted on African football in recent days, with infected players ruled out of several of the club competition semi-finals, but the Confederation of African Football are pressing ahead with arrangements to complete the African Champions League and African Confederation Cup, as well as next month’s Nations Cup qualifiers.