2021 AFCON: Plots Thicken To Stop Ndidi, Iheanacho, Others

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Premier League clubs have intensified plots to bar Nigerian and other African players from staring in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon because of COVID concerns around the tournament.

Top teams want guarantees about safety protocols for players during the 24-team competition that is due to begin in Cameroon on January 9. They also want assurances there won’t be any extra quarantine measures that will force their stars to miss further club games on their return to England.

Though there is not yet any collective organised lobbying to have AFCON cancelled, disquiet is growing in a fast-moving situation with one club admitting they are ‘concerned’.

The topic could be added to the agenda at Monday’s Premier League shareholders meeting, which is being held to decide whether domestic games should be called off as a COVID circuit breaker.

In total, 40 Premier League players are scheduled to take part in AFCON including high-profile assets like Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, William Troost-Ekong and Emmanuel Dennis.

Watford will be the most affected club with five players called up with a number of other clubs including Leicester and Arsenal losing four players.

Last week the influential European Clubs’ Association (ECA) wrote to FIFA to raise the issue of rising Omicron cases and travel restrictions imposed by Governments.

In response, AFCON organisers have stated supporters will have to be double vaccinated to attend games but insisted the competition will take place as planned.

Theoretically, FIFA could impose a ban on players turning out for their clubs if they do not go to AFCON. But that sanction wasn’t imposed earlier this season when Premier League clubs refused to send their players to red-list South American and African countries for World Cup qualifiers.

English clubs are now waiting to see if any new regulations would mean their players missing games after AFCON. Recent disruption to the English fixture list increases pressure on games needing to be rescheduled.