The European Club Association (ECA), which includes the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, PSG and Bayern Munich among its 234 members, has written to FIFA expressing concerns about the Africa Cup of Nations in January and threatening not to release players.
This is the 2021 edition of the tournament but it was moved to early 2022 amid the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the international football calendar. It had already been moved from the summer of 2021 to January 2021, before it was rescheduled again.
Now, as a result of the Omicron variant, there are fresh concerns about whether it should go ahead.
In a letter to FIFA Deputy Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom, the ECA discussed the implications of new COVID-19 restrictions being introduced by governments, a duty to ensure player safety and wellbeing, as well as the knock-on effect of players potentially having to quarantine on their return from Africa and missing more club matches as a result.
International travellers arriving in England, for example, must take a test within two days and isolate while waiting for the results. If fully vaccinated, a negative test will at least end the isolation immediately, but testing positive means quarantining for 10 days. If not fully vaccinated, an individual must isolate for 10 full days, even if a test on the second day is negative.
It has already been reported that Premier League clubs are exploring the possibility of fining any unvaccinated players should isolation force them to miss games at any time. The last information published on vaccination levels in the Premier League in mid-October revealed only 68% uptake.
As far as Premier League clubs alone are concerned for AFCON, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eric Bailly, Wilfred Ndidi and many more would be expected to receive call ups by their respective countries.
RMC reported on Wednesday morning that AFCON could be cancelled by CAF amid pressure from clubs, which is mainly coming from England.
Publicly, however, CAF appear determined to push on. A statement on the governing body’s website on Wednesday morning noted the arrival of General Secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba in host nation Cameroon, meeting with officials already on the ground regarding final details to deliver the event.
Mosengo-Omba was described as ‘optimistic’ about the tournament.
On COVID-19, the statement read: “Following a directive from the CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe who initiated discussions with the Cameroon government on sanitary approach and Covid19 protocols at the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations, the meeting between CAF and Health Ministry ironed out a number of details in relation to the competition. CAF and Cameroon government reached common ground on the approach to the competition in January.”