The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying matches scheduled for this month has been postponed indefinitely by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a statement on Friday, CAF said it made the decision following strict travel restrictions by some African countries to contain the spread of the virus and the declaration of the virus as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The continent’s football governing body added that following the growing concerns of the virus, the protection of the health and safety of stakeholders including players, sponsors, match officials, and broadcasters is more important than the games.
According to the statement, a new schedule will be announced in due time. CAF added that several African governments have taken strong restrictions on travels; lockdown, quarantine for people coming from countries affected by the virus.
The matches postponed were scheduled to start from March 25 to 31 for men’s qualifiers and 8-14 April for women’s AFCON 2020 qualifiers. The women’s Under 20 World Cup qualifiers scheduled for 27-29 March has also been postponed.
“Coronavirus has been declared as a pandemic by WHO. In Africa, only a few cases have been reported, but the situation could evolve negatively. Several players, who are supposed to play the next Afcon qualifiers, come from countries that have been severely affected by the virus (Europe, Asia),” the statement read.
“Several African governments have taken strong restrictions on travels; lockdown, quarantine for people coming from countries affected by the virus. Several clubs refuse now to release their players for the next international matches.
“For the above reasons and after studying carefully the current situation, Caf has decided to postpone the Total Africa Cup of Nations 2021 qualifiers, scheduled from 25 to 31 March 2020.”
As the world is struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus, several sporting events and football competitions including major European leagues and the 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifying fixtures in Asia and South America have been suspended while some were announced to be held behind closed doors. CAF had earlier this week disclosed that inter-club competitions would proceed as scheduled.
CAF’s decision to suspend the qualifiers comes after Kenya Football Federation asked CSF to postpone their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Comoros over the coronavirus.
The decision by the Kenyan federation to write to the African body comes just two days after the Kenyan government moved to ban all conferences and meetings of more than 15 people of international nature for the next month.
The government also banned flights from specific countries that are affected by the COVID-19 virus as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of the virus in Kenya.
While the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) boss Amaju Pinnick revealed plans to move Super Eagles’ players via a chartered flight from their respective base in Europe.