23, March 2020
People around the world have had a challenging week as cities and even whole countries go into lockdown with efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. But perhaps few have had a week quite as tough as Sao Tome and Principe’s under-17 side.
After losing 10-0 on aggregate to Cameroon in a qualifier for the Fifa U-17 women’s cup, the team have been stuck in Yaounde as successive countries closed their borders just as the flights they were meant to take home were scheduled to leave.
Their original return flight, the day after the heavy loss, was for Sunday, via the Equatorial Guinea capital Malabo.
But that morning, Equatorial Guinea closed its borders, so the flight never happened.
Instead, the team were booked for the following morning to go home via Gabon.
But come Monday morning, the same thing happened.
And Cameroon itself has now closed its own borders, meaning the team remain in the country with no exact idea when they might be able to leave.
However, the President of Cameroon’s Football Federation (Fecafoot), Seidou Mbombo Njoya, has told the BBC that his organisation will take responsibility for the team’s stay in the country for as long as they are there.
“We have decided to take charge of the Sao Tome team’s expenses because we feel it’s the safest thing to do at the moment,” Njoya told BBC Sport Africa.
“It’s a pretty difficult situation for that team but we believe it can happen to anyone and now that the coronavirus is spreading panic in the world, we have to support one another.”
Fecafoot’s commitment to its visitors includes covering expenses such as hotels, food, and healthcare.
Cameroon’s football governing body has now liaised with the country’s sports ministry as they push for special measures that could see the women depart the Central African nation soon.
“These are very young girls and we must understand that most of them haven’t thought or had to deal with this sort of situation. It must be a traumatizing situation for them being unable to return to their country,” Mbombo Njoya added.
“These are very difficult times and with the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, there’s no doubt these players will feel safer around their parents, friends and loved one.
“Most of them are students who’ve missed a week of studies and we feel very concerned about this because it could’ve been us in this situation.
“Thanks to the intervention from Caf and Fifa, we have been able to charter a flight for the Sao Tome delegation and we’re working closely with the ministry of transport to see if they could be granted special permission to fly out of the country.”
BBC Sport Africa reached out to the head of the Sao Tome and Principe delegation but he has declined to comment on the situation. However, BBC Sport Africa understands the team has remained in high spirits amid the uncertainty.