31, October 2020
Cameroon football legend Geremi Njitap says African countries must not be allowed to stage Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic.
There have been reports that Senegal and Guinea-Bissau were “discussing” moving back-to-back matches during November from Dakar and Bissau to Portugal.
Senegal had to postpone at the last minute this month a warm-up match when eight of the visiting Mauritania delegation tested positive for Covid-19.
However, that was the only friendly international in the continent during October to be cancelled while two in Portugal and one in Turkey involving African teams were called off due to coronavirus.
Answering a question from AFP at a videoconference organised by the Netherlands-based global professional footballers’ union FIFPro, Geremi said: “I do not believe CAF will allow that.
“This is an African competition and there is no way matches can be played in Europe,” said the former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Cameroon defender-cum-midfielder and FIFPro board member.
“Of course, staging qualifiers in Europe would be better for most of the players because that is where they are based.
“I have no objection to friendly internationals involving African countries being staged in Europe, but not Cup of Nations nor World Cup qualifiers.
“African football supporters will not accept that — they want to cheer their heroes on even if the numbers at grounds may be severely limited by the pandemic.”
FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann warned that health protocols “do not change one bit” whether matches are staged in Africa or Europe.
“It is very important to make clear that the responsibilities and obligations of federations in terms of health protocols do not change.
“During the international window this month, many footballers in Europe contracted the virus after being with national teams.
“Irrespective of whether matches are staged in Africa or Europe, federations need to do a better job than they did this month when providing health safeguards.
– ‘Big risk’ –
“Otherwise, there is a big risk of many positive cases which can impact on how Africa proceeds with qualifying for the Cup of Nations and World Cup.”
There are 48 Cup of Nations qualifiers scheduled between November 9 and 17, including defending champions Algeria playing Zimbabwe at home and away.
Geremi was also asked if he agreed with 1995 World, European and African Footballer of the Year and now Liberia president George Weah that Covid-19 posed a huge threat to African football.
“Football is more than a religion in Africa and an Africa without football is unimaginable,” said the former star who made 118 appearances for the Cameroon national team, the Indomitable Lions.
“Kids love football, and many poor families see the sport as a path to a better life if a child can develop their talents and secure a professional contract.
“Governments and companies cannot stop putting money into football,” he said, reacting to the fears of Weah that there will be a “large drop-off” in funding from the public and private sectors.
“Where these (sponsorships) no longer exist, many clubs will collapse and leagues will close permanently,” Weah told a recent videoconference organised by the Africa Sports Ventures group.
“It is my considered opinion that the future of sport in Africa is bleak, and not guaranteed to recover,” said the ex-Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille forward.
“Health and economic recovery take absolute priority, however it is important that the global funding being raised should recognise the social importance of sport.”