Football

Afcon qualifiers start amid anger over French league's coronavirus policy

Riyad Mahrez skippered Algeria to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations trophy.
Riyad Mahrez skippered Algeria to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations trophy. AFP

The final rounds of qualifiers for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon got underway on Wednesday afternoon amid anger over the French government’s late decision to drop a seven-day quarantine rule for African players and the logistical shuffling needed to unite them with their national teams.

Advertising

Last week, the Ligue de Football Professionnel - which organises the top two divisions in France - declared the clubs would not make their African stars available for selection for the games between 24 and 30 March because they would need to spend a week in isolation once they came back.

The LFP said it would make use of Fifa's decision from February when the world game's governing body said clubs could refuse to let their players leave if they had to undergo more than five days of quarantine on their return from matches outside of the European Union.

That would have ruled a plethora of African internationals out of crucial games over the weekend of 3-4 April.

'Unfair'

The French professional footballers’ association, UNFP, said that the Fifa clause discriminated against Africans in Europe and was unfair. The UNFP called on the French government to drop it.

"These decisions testify to a discrimination that the French state cannot continue to bear and which it must, on the contrary, get rid of as soon as possible," a UNFP statement added.

Fifa boss, Gianni Infantino, sensing a PR disaster with undertones of racism, urged clubs to let their players leave for international duty.

"We are living in a very difficult situation, especially but not only in Europe with regard to the Covid-19," he said following a meeting of Fifa power brokers.

Rethink

"Obviously we would like the March games to go ahead with the best possible squads.

"We urge all parties to understand that national team football is very important for the vast majority of countries round the world."

On Saturday, the French sports ministry lifted its quarantine policy - imposed as part of the fight to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

"The ministry of sports confirms that international players returning from official competitions outside the EU with their national team, whether French or foreign, are exempt from the seven-day waiting period as long as they comply with a strict sanitary and medical protocol.”

Organisation

The ministry’s decision launched a scramble to charter flights for the players so they could stay within that protocol of PCR tests once the matches in Africa had finished.

The Senegalese federation managed to organise trips for players such as the Paris Saint-Germain stars Idrissa Gueye and Abdou Diallo.

However, the PSG boss, Mauricio Pochettino, made clear his dissatisfaction about the decision. "These situations could be anticipated,” said the Argentine. "For us and the other clubs, it's not the best way or the best timing.”

Gueye and Diallo had not been expected to leave for their country’s games against Congo and Eswatini.

As a result they would have been more likely to start the pacesetters’ top-of-the-table clash at home to second-placed Lille on 3 April.

Lyon's Tino Kadewere and Marshall Munetsi at Reims were unable to leave for Zimbabwe's Group H clash against Botswana on Thursday because the football association federation could not find a flight for the pair.

Anger

Cote d’Ivoire coach, Patrice Beaumelle, also hit out at the late change. “I'm not going to say to those I've called up: 'You're not coming anymore because these others are,'” he told the French sports paper L’Equipe.

"I'm disappointed with the way it works because we have a group of players to manage. I think it's disrespectful to make these decisions so late."

Cote d’Ivoire, who won the 2015 tournament, will go into their Group K games against Niger and Ethiopia without the Lyon duo Maxwel Cornet and Sinaly Diomandé as well as the Lens midfielder Seko Fofana.

Beaumelle’s men need four points from the games to book their ticket for the competition which should have taken place in January 2021 but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning