Govt flexes its muscle over AFCON  adventure

Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
THE Government has flexed its muscle by declaring that it’s too dangerous for the Warriors to travel to Algeria for a 2021 AFCON qualifier this month as countries across the world battle to protect their citizens, and territories, from the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

There has been a nationwide debate about whether the Warriors should be allowed to travel to Algeria for their Nations Cup qualifier, given the way the North African country has been hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with many arguing it could put the team, and the nation, at risk.

The Confederation of African Football have been insisting that the match should be played in Blida, ironically the worst hit area in Algeria, on March 23.

But, the Government has now given its position on the matter, with Health and Child Welfare Minister, Obadiah Moyo, saying the Warriors should not go and play in Algeria this month, given the huge risks associated with such an adventure.

Governments in Madagascar, Rwanda, Tunisia — which shares a border with Algeria — and Kenya have taken a similar stance by suspending all international sporting events.

Egypt, who have reported 55 cases, have also announced that their football league matches will now be played behind closed doors.

On yet another dramatic day across a globe battling to contain the spread of coronavirus, sport felt the full fury of the raging pandemic with:

Spanish La Liga side Getafe announcing they will not travel to Milan for their UEFA Europa League football Last 16 first-leg clash with Inter Milan with club president, Angel Torres, saying he could not risk his players to the coronavirus crisis in Italy.

Torres revealing they had ‘‘UEFA to look for an alternative to play, we do not want to get into the middle of the coronavirus, we have no need, if we have to lose the tie, we will lose it. I will not be the one to assume any risk. It makes us very emotional, but if it has to be this way, it will be.’’

Roma announcing they will not travel to Spain for their Europa League match today while Manchester United’s battle against LASK in Austria, in the same competition, will be played behind closed doors tonight.

Moyo said the risk of sending the Warriors into Algeria this month far outweighed the possible benefits of such a dangerous adventure.

“We understand that our (national football) team will be playing in Algiers.  That is where we have a problem,’’ Moyo said in Senate on Tuesday while responding to questions after delivering a ministerial statement about the disease.

‘‘They will go there and meet other people. We understand that in Algeria there are people who are sick and they will meet those people.

‘‘We have to quickly see what we can do on that issue.  They must not go, is it not?  I want to thank you because I have heard you agreeing with me.  I will take that word up.’’

He said SADC countries had since taken a stance that public gatherings should be minimised.

“In other countries, only the playing teams go to the stadia, only 22 players will be in the stadium and they play without spectators.  It is no longer the issue of us being many,” Moyo said.

The minister said they received support from Britain, to boost their preparedness for the disease.

‘‘We have received further protective kits from the British. They gave us £100 000 worth of protective kits — masks, goggles and all that.

‘‘At the same time, they are spending £1,7 million for the creation of a National Response Centre which is situated at Parirenyatwa Hospital.

‘‘Once it is completed, it should be in a week or two, we will have an opening ceremony and we will invite all the members of Senate who can attend that function,” said Moyo.

He said Zimbabwe had not yet got to a stage where people were required to put on masks like what was happening in other countries.

“We have not yet reached that stage of wearing masks. However, we have seen that those coming from outside the country are wearing masks, which is a very good thing. We are also working on having lots of masks.

‘‘As I stand before you, before I came here, I enquired on the progress of acquiring our masks, whether the first consignment has arrived.

‘‘We want to have lots of masks but, at the moment, we are not yet worried to that extent though we should be prepared and ready,” said Moyo.

He discouraged people from eating unusual types of foods.

There was also concern yesterday about the reverse match between the Warriors and the Desert Foxes set for Johannesburg at the end of this month after the South African disease control yesterday confirmed the country had recorded six new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 13.

In the event that CAF do not scrape the matches, amid reports of a number of countries saying they are not in a position to fulfil the games, that AFCON qualifier in Johannesburg would likely be held behind closed doors.

Yesterday, CAF said, for now, the AFCON qualifiers would go ahead as scheduled this month.

‘‘CAF wishes to inform Member Associations and the entire African football family that we are closely monitoring the evolution of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world and in particular the African continent,’’ the organisation said in a statement.

‘‘According to World Health Organisation, no African country till date has been declared a high risk.

‘‘Consequently, CAF has decided to maintain the schedule of all competitions. Also, CAF has been informed of the restrictive measures taken by the authorities of some Member Associations and is in contact to find solutions on a case-by-case basis, with the option of the organisation of matches behind closed doors.

‘‘Regarding the Total African Nations Championship (CHAN) Cameroon 2020, a delegation from the CAF Medical Committee is scheduled to visit Cameroon from 14-15 March 2020.

‘‘The purpose of this mission is to assess all the preventive measures taken by the Local Organising Committee. The competition is scheduled for 4-25 April 2020.’’

However, FIFPRO, the organisation which represents professional footballers in the world, said the health of the players should be given a priority.

‘‘Professional footballers, like other workers, are concerned about themselves and their families and friends being exposed to the coronavirus during their daily lives,’’ FIFPRO said in a statement.

‘‘For players their exposure could come during travel, training and match days. Any actions relating to these activities must be coordinated in close co-operation with players and their unions.

‘‘We ask that employers and competition organisers respect the wishes of players to take short-term precautionary measures including suspending training or competitions.

‘‘We support the players and their associations who have requested a suspension or postponement of football activities in their countries or regions.

‘‘As the situation changes, it is important to strengthen coordination amongst international football stakeholders, governments and public health experts in order to take the best possible course of action for our people and our industry.’’

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