Africa assesses match safety during unrest

AP , Tuesday 22 Feb 2011

African football leaders will discuss how pro-democracy protests could pose security risks at international matches, including home games for Libya and Algeria next month

Issa Hayatou
CAF president Issa Hayatou

The Confederation of African Football’s executive committee meets in Sudan on Thursday and will assess safety at scheduled March 25-27 qualifying matches for next year’s African Cup of Nations.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and CAF President Issa Hayatou are expected to address the effect of Africa’s fast-changing politics on its favorite sport on Friday at a news conference in Khartoum.

CAF’s top administrator, Hicham El Amrani, said the 54-member body had time to weigh its options before postponing any matches.

“We are evaluating the situation right now, so there is no point rushing into taking a decision for matches that are happening in one month,” El Amrani, the interim secretary general, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

FIFA already responded to the pro-democracy wave sweeping across North Africa and Asia by delaying a 2012 Olympics qualifier scheduled for Wednesday in Yemen by one week.

The world governing body and Asian confederation agreed last week that security in Sanaa was too unstable to send Singapore’s Under-23 team to the Yemeni capital.

After a month of unrest in Egypt, football officials have said they will ask CAF to postpone next month’s Cup of Nations match in South Africa because players’ preparation has been affected. Egypt’s league shut down last month during protests that led to the ouster of former state president Hosni Mubarak.

No African federation has yet formally asked CAF to change fixture plans, El Amrani told the AP by telephone from Khartoum.

El Amrani acknowledged that matches could become the focus of protests because Cup of Nations highlights are televised globally.

“It’s a whole bunch of considerations. There are five, six, seven different factors that we’ll take into account,” he said. “The executive committee will review all those parameters keeping in mind as a prime one, of course, the security and safety of not only the players but officials as well.”

Players joined in democracy protests two years ago after a disputed presidential election in Iran.

Several Iran players wore green wristbands during the first half of a World Cup qualifier in South Korea to show solidarity with anti-government groups. FIFA took no action despite rules prohibiting political statements.

African qualifiers scheduled next month in potentially volatile capital cities include Libya hosting Comoros in Tripoli and Algeria playing Morocco in Algiers, where both venues have political connections.

Libya plays in the June 11 Stadium, celebrating the date in 1970 that United States military forces left the country, and Algeria’s national stadium is named for July 5, 1962, marking the former colony’s independence from France.

If any matches are postponed in March, CAF could request home-and-away doubleheaders in the June 3-7 slot on FIFA’s international calendar when teams are already scheduled to play the return games.

“We’ll keep all options on the table. The priority is always to stick to the international match calendar,” El Amrani said.

Tunisia, where the current protests began, has arranged away friendlies in Qatar and Oman next month, and has a home qualifier against Chad on June 3.

FIFA said in a statement it did not have ultimate responsibility for Cup of Nations and Olympics qualifiers, but was “in touch with its member confederations and associations in order to monitor the situation.”

Blatter is in Sudan for the annual CAF assembly on Wednesday.

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