Largest Tournament
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By Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani

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I didn’t title this article “AFCON the Largest Tournament” at first because I didn’t have much respect for it.

“I’ve heard it so many times, that there’s no international break until March,” Jurgen Klopp explained.

“There’s a little tournament in Africa in January, I just want to say, and I think Asia is playing games as well – South America as well.”

“Excellent, I can’t wait!”

But I’ve done so now primarily to respond to the alleged disregard, misinformation, or outright disrespect directed at Africa’s most prestigious football tournament, which Jurgen Klopp’s comments on the African Cup of Nations appear to convey as less relevant.

I have a lot of respect for Klopp, who is one of the best tacticians in the game.

I can’t say he meant to disrespect the AFCON, but that doesn’t stop me from addressing what is gradually gaining credence in Europe, whether blatantly or subtly: a lack of regard for the AFCON.

I once wrote an article titled “The Pinnacle of African Football and the Pursuit of Glory.”

It would have been released ahead of the last AFCON in Egypt.

It was never published, however.

The title aptly captured my perspective on African football.

This, I believe, is how the vast majority of African football fans see it.

And no amount of disdain, misunderstanding, red herrings, or misinformation can change that.

The biggest event in African football kicked off on January 9th, with five-time champions Cameroon taking on Burkina Faso at Yaounde’s Olembe Stadium.

It served as a warm-up for Africa’s most important football tournament.

The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, also known as the Total 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, is the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. Cameroon, the 31st edition’s champion, will host the tournament.

In the previous edition, Algeria won the competition in June/July.

This edition, however, has been pushed back to January/February.

Cameroon was supposed to host the previous edition, but they were stripped of their hosting rights in November 2018 due to three factors: the Anglophone crisis, delays in the delivery of critical infrastructure, and the Boko Haram crisis.

Even before the competition begins, this edition of the AFCON has presented a slew of challenges.

The timing of the AFCON has sparked fierce opposition from a variety of quarters.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has reverted to the traditional AFCON calendar, as opposed to the normal Summer calendar used in major international competitions such as the World Cup and European Football competition, though the former is set to be played in November this year, unlike previous editions.

The majority of the opposition to the timing of the AFCON has come from European clubs, who stand to lose a lot if some of their key players miss some features for the duration of the AFCON.

As a result, many clubs devised methods to keep their players, either against their wishes or in collaboration with the players. Some clubs allegedly went out of their way to engage in unethical practices in order to keep their players from representing their countries.

Former Super Eagles Player John Ogu made shocking revelations about his manager asking him to fake injuries in order to keep him from playing for the Nigerian national team. ‘Not even surprised at the situation of foreign managers or clubs not wanting their players to go represent their country in tournaments,’ Ogu tweeted.

‘One particular manager in Portugal requested that I inform the coach of the Eagles at the time that I was injured so that I would not participate in a friendly game.’

‘After I left and returned to the club, he stopped playing me, and this was before the World Cup that year.’

I mentioned it here, and many people said I was lying and so on.

Also read: AFCON: Nigeria Defeat Egypt 1-0

‘Una, do you see how they are now?’

According to Goal Africa, Ogu, who eventually missed out on the 2014 tournament, is currently without a club in 2020.

‘I didn’t make that World Cup list,’ he continued.

“The evil part was when the list came out and he found out I wasn’t invited, he approached me and asked me to call the manager to list me and that if he wants, he can start me in the last game of the league.”

‘I was astounded at how evil one person can be.’

You could see how far some of these clubs could travel.

It’s absurd, gratuitous, and unacceptably disrespectful to African football and Africa in general.

The European Club Association wrote to FIFA to explain why they might not release players for the AFCON: health, player welfare, and the timing of the AFCON.

The ECA also charged African football associations with failing to “properly implement protocols with worrying degrees of negligence.”

The ECA stated that they would only release African players for the upcoming 2021 African Cup of Nations if African national football associations met certain stringent conditions.

The ECA made their position is known in an official letter to FIFA Deputy Secretary-General Matthias Grafstrom and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on December 2, 2021, especially with the raging Omicron variant of Covid 19.

The ECA has directed FIFA and CAF to take all necessary precautions to protect players and club interests ahead of the tournament.

I must admit that there are critical issues to be resolved regarding the timing of the AFCON, and the ECA has the right to protect their interests.

CAF and its member organizations are as well.

CAF will be unfair to its affiliated associations if it continues to insist on the current calendar simply to demonstrate that it has sufficient grounds.

All of this, however, does not provide the ECA with the impetus, let alone the justification, to insult African football.

I know certainly that if it were the other way round: The backlash from the European press, clubs, and fans would have been deafening. A Series of sanctions would have been in place on those clubs from FIFA. CAF, FIFA, and all stakeholders should treat this matter thoroughly with a view to finding a lasting solution that has the players, the fans, and everyone in mind. Above all, a workable remedy that upholds the dignity of Africans and aids the development of the beautiful game should be rigorously pursued.

 

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