African football chief Patrice Motsepe confirmed on Tuesday that the Africa Cup of Nations (AfCon) will go ahead as planned in Cameroon next month despite the Omicron-variant led surge in Covid-19 cases.
“I am going to watch, on the 9th of January, Cameroon and Burkina Faso [in the opening match],” Motsepe said, dispelling rumours that the already delayed continental showpiece could fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
South African mining tycoon Motsepe gave the green-light to the AfCon, originally due to be staged in 2019, after talks with Cameroon president Paul Biya.
But the 59-year-old was quick to stress the dangers presented by the new variant responsible for record daily numbers of positive cases.
“Omicron is an enormous challenge,” Motsepe said, guaranteeing that nobody would be allowed to set foot in the stadiums without a negative PCR test.
Motsepe was joined at the press briefing by the newly elected head of the Cameroon football federation, the country’s former football star Samuel Eto’o.
“I will also be there when the trophy is handed over by Eto’o” after the competition’s final game on Feruary 6, Motsepe added.
Cameroon were originally due to stage the African football showcase in 2019 but fell behind with preparations and Egypt stepped in as late replacements.
The 2021 tournament dates have changed twice, first because of fears that torrential seasonal rains could affect the tight schedule, and then because of the pandemic.
Motsepe arrived in Yaounde on Monday with rumours suggesting he was in town to read the event’s last rites.
His visit to Cameroon under three weeks from the opening match, followed last week’s threat from Europe’s top clubs not to release players due to concerns over the Covid-safety protocol.
Many of Africa’s leading players are based at clubs in Europe, including Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City and Achraf Hakimi and Idrissa Gana Gueye of Paris Saint-Germain.
The European Club Association made its concerns known to FIFA in a letter seen by AFP.
The ECA also raised concerns about the danger of players being unavailable for even longer periods due to the potential for travel restrictions or mandatory quarantine being introduced.