By Mukwuzi Joseph
Africa Cup of Nations organizers has insisted next month’s delayed tournament will take place as scheduled in Cameroon despite European clubs threatening not to release their players because of concerns over rising cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The European Club Association (ECA) sent a letter to Fifa’s deputy secretary-general, Mattias Grafström, last week detailing “three fundamental concerns for clubs when it comes to the release of players to national teams”. Those are ensuring that “every player’s wellbeing is protected”, “that clubs are not forced to be without players for club competition matches”, and that all should be allowed to return to their clubs after the tournament “in a timely fashion, as per the applicable rules”.
“At present, these three principles are at risk of not being respected in connection with the upcoming January releases,” the letter said.
The tournament was scheduled to take place last year before being delayed by the pandemic, and reports circulated on Wednesday that it could be postponed again. The Confederation of African Football (Caf) refused to comment on the ECA letter but its head of media relations, Lux September, told the Guardian: “Afcon will be staged in Cameroon on 9 January 2022. That is alpha. And omega.”
Up to 40 players from the Premier League could be called up for the tournament. Liverpool has held talks over delaying the departures of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, with Jürgen Klopp saying he was “optimistic” both will be available for Liverpool’s trips to Leicester and Chelsea over the festive period.
With rules over how long players will have to quarantine after their return undefined, European clubs remain uncertain over the full impact of the tournament on their squads. The ECA had a meeting with Fifa a fortnight ago to discuss player safety.
Sky Sports has confirmed that it will broadcast all 52 matches live in the UK and Ireland, with the BBC showing 10 games live, including the final on February 6th.