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15th Dec 2021

African Cup of Nations could be postponed over player wellbeing fears, according to reports

Wayne Farry

The tournament is currently due to kickoff on January 9

Next year’s African Cup of Nations (AFCON) could be postponed indefinitely, according to reports, due to fears over player safety amid a reluctance from European club sides to release their players at a time when the Omicron variant is spreading.

According to Egyptian journalist Ismael Mahmoud, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will announce the postponement of the tournament soon, with an eventual start date not set.

The reports follow a letter written to the CAF by the European Clubs Association (ECA), which represents the interests of clubs governed by UEFA, in which they warned that a number of clubs are unwilling to release European-based players due to what they perceive as the CAF’s lack of adequate health measures to protect players from Covid-19 while competing at the tournament, which is set to be hosted in Cameroon.

According to a report in France’s RMC Sport, there is concern from clubs not just over the Covid protocols at the tournament, but also the time that their players will be forced to spend in quarantine upon their return from competing.

This absence, combined with the spread of the Omicron variant and the congested football calendar ahead of a winter World Cup next year, have led many – mainly English clubs according to the report – to threaten withholding their players.

A number of Premier League teams would benefit from the postponement of the tournament. Each of Arsenal, Leicester and Crystal Palace would potentially see four players leave each of their squads. Watford, meanwhile, would see five players leave for the tournament.

Liverpool, while only having three players who could take part, are likely one of the clubs most hopeful of a postponement, due to the fact their three players set to compete in Cameroon are their talisman Mohamed Salah, his strike partner Sadio Mane and midfielder Naby Keita.