Soccer; Racism; and AFCON


Reacting to fears of the spread of Omicron, the latest Covid-19 variant discovered in South Africa, Europe’s top clubs are threatening not to release players for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) scheduled to start January 2022. In a letter to the Deputy General Secretary of FIFA – Mattias Grastrom – the European Clubs Association (ECA) expressed its concerns over the rising cases of the new variant Omicron of Covid-19 and the traveling restrictions put in place by government authorities.

It doesn’t look like there has been any formal communication between the ECA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) so the latter would rather treat the situation in the same manner as the ECA is going about it. The ECA is supposedly a respected soccer body in Europe and would not be condescended to. Meanwhile, foreign players in European clubs are allowed in their contracts to play for their home clubs or national teams if, called upon. The ECA is also aware that AFCON is the top soccer competition in Africa from which recruiters from the world of soccer hunt for talent. Hopefully the CAF would not kowtow to a threat by a parallel governing body. But we are surprised at FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s response and reaction to the ECA. He has always been a staunch supporter of African football but his response and support of the ECA is an indictment on him. It is simply prejudicial against Africans and Black players. It is unfortunate that racism continues in sport in the face of several efforts to slow it down.

ECA’s threat is rather condescending to Africa and Africans, and irresponsible as well. Or is ECA acting on fears of the origin of the new Omicron variant as from South Africa? And even that claim could be suspect as some experts are not clear on that. According to a Forbes article authored by William A. Haseltine (Omicron Origins:, “A study of the sewage in New York City gives a hint of just how prevalent infection and mutation is across animal species. The New York research, conducted across 14 of the city’s waste water treatment plants, was originally aimed at exploring human sewage for signs of the virus, but the researchers found four new combinations of viral mutations that had never been seen in humans.” The write-up, however, goes on to claim that the virus was first detected in South Africa. But what could have occasioned the New York research in the first place? Does the research also question the Trumpist racist reference to China as the origin of the pandemic?

The spread of Covid-19 was more pronounced in Europe and the Americas. Statistics from the United States, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, among several countries in the Western world show a gross mismanagement of the pandemic that killed many people. Expectations of the pandemic’s devastating effects in Africa were elusive, to say the least, but again it was Africans who became suspect as carriers at European and American borders and entry ports and were openly discriminated against. South Africa might have been the only African country with an unusually large infected population but it was not close to the USA. In the short time that the Omicron virus was discovered infections are spreading rather faster in the United States and Europe.

The statistical figures from Africa are too low to be any consequential but African governments are not lying low. A WHO News and Press Release published online on November 2 says that at the time of posting online, Omicron had been detected in Ghana and Nigeria. “So far, Botswana and South Africa have reported 19 and 172 Omicron variant cases. The two southern African countries account for 62% of cases reported globally.” A WHO report published in Reuters and posted online on December 21 (‘Significant surge’ in European cases expected as Omicron spreads – WHO) “warned countries to brace for a “significant surge” in Covid-19 cases as Omicron spreads …” At the time of writing, 38 of 53 countries in the WHO’s European region have been detected as having the Omicron variant. And among them Omicron “is already dominant in several of them including Denmark, Portugal and the United Kingdom…” In the circumstances of the aforementioned, Africa must rather be afraid that our players coming home could be carriers.

The ECA’s suspicions and now FIFA’S threats are misplaced and also contemptuous. Would COPA America be subjected to a similar fate if it were to fall in a similar time as this? Black players in Europe have been at the butt of racist jokes and sometimes violent attacks as some racist spectators would attack them with dangerous elements at them even on the field of play as the game proceeds. UEFA – and presumably ECA – is a signatory to anti-racism in sports but it has not abated.

The AFCON games offer some financial benefits to players. We are of the opinion that the decision of the ECA is overlooking the state of Covid-19 in Africa. The posture of the ECA clearly shows either a morbid fear of Africa as the breeding ground for the epidemic or a complete disregard of information emanating from Africa and indeed the WHO about the state of the epidemic on the continent. The refusal of the ECA’s decision places the European body’s needs above those of the African players and the needs of their countries.

The AFCON games is a key pillar of African football. Among other benefits players are scouted and recruited to fuel the multi billion-dollar business of the world’s most popular sport. Africans are not surprised at the ECA’s reaction to the new variant and its so-called origin.

The thematic element in sport is to make the world a better place for all people. That is why so much money and resources are spent to stage the Olympics, World Cup, among several such games that embrace the human race and gather them at one location for competition.

The ECA’s decision to prevent African players from playing in the 2022 AFCON games and its purported fear of Covid-19 and the new Omicron variant pales in comparison to what happens on European stadia and the dangers they hold for African and Black players, officials and spectators alike.

FIFA is the only controlling body of football in the world and must not look away and shirk its responsibility to stem increasing racism in the sport. Supporting ECA in its decision to strangulate the next year’s AFCON games is an indictment on FIFA President Infantino, who has been known to have been a staunch supporter of the game of football in Africa. The rest of the soccer world, especially, the regional powers of soccer must stand behind Africa at this time.

Posted by on Dec 27 2021. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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