• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Omicron: European football league on red alert, 2021 AFCON in doubt


Global football faces yet another big challenge as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 increases participation requirements for fans to watch live matches.

With Omicron detected in South Africa last month and has spread to over 13 African countries, fears are that football fans and players may be subjected to a rigorous process to participate in coming games.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday says the Omicron COVID-19 variant has spread to 57 countries.

The UK, Canada, and other European countries have placed travel restrictions on countries with known cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The football world is also affected as the UK government in a move to curb the spread of the virus on Wednesday announced that Premier League, Championship, League One, and League Two fans would have to present a Covid passport before gaining access to the match venues.

Read Also: Omicron variant: APRA condemns travel ban against Africa

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures and said any venue with crowds of larger 10,000 people will require attendees to present an NHS Covid pass which shows proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test.

West Ham boss David Moyes has backed the calls for vaccine passports to be a requirement for football fans.

“I think we need to try and make sure we try and eliminate it the best we can,” Moyes said. “I think if I was a football supporter, I’d want to go and sit next to somebody who I know had been vaccinated and gives me the best chance of not contracting the virus.

“I’m a football supporter, I watch games and I want to go to games. I want to keep going. I think the crowds are so important to football. And I know that people have a right to make their own choices and I respect that.

“But I think it’s something now which we would seriously have to consider because if I was a supporter I really would want to go to a game next to someone who I knew had been vaccinated.”

In the German Bundesliga matches have been played in an empty stadium as the German government is putting stringent measures to curb the spread of Omicron.

Bavarian minister-president Markus Soder tweeted: “Bavaria’s proposal for football: There should be no spectators in the professional leagues by the end of the year.

“When Christmas markets are closed, full stadiums are inconsistent.

“We are proposing this across Germany and will implement it in Bavaria. The goal: reduce contacts.”

His words were echoed by his Saxony equivalent Michael Kretschmer: “One can assume that the Bundesliga is to play on without spectators.
This means that if the number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant continues to soar, the German government might enforce total lockdown on football.

Also, The European Club Association (ECA) has raised concerns about allowing players to the upcoming African Cup of Nations (AFCON) after the Omicron Covid-19 variant was discovered in South Africa in November.

The AFCON is scheduled to take place in Cameroon, which will begin on January 9 and run until February 6, and several players from all across Europe are expected to join up and represent their respective countries.

Countries have started to introduce stricter rules amid concerns over the infection rate of the Omicron variant, and the ECA confirmed that they plan to hold talks with FIFA in the coming weeks to discuss the safety of the AFCON.

“The Board also expressed its deep concerns around player safety and welfare ahead of the African Cup Nations and upcoming international windows in early 2022, particularly in light of the worsening public health situation and the severe challenges faced during recent international windows,” ECA statement reads.

“The Board agreed to engage urgently with FIFA to ensure all necessary precautions are in place to protect players and club interests as the health situation continues to deteriorate alarmingly.”

On top of the obvious health risk, the ECA are also concerned about the impact that quarantining could have on domestic schedules, with many leagues keen to avoid a repeat of the chaos which took place back in September.

Clubs blocked their South American players from traveling for the international break to avoid contracting the virus.

In a swift response, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has denied rumours that the AFCON tournament could be postponed following the discovery of the Omicron variant.

Alex Siewe, CAF Director of Communications says the body has not discussed the possibility of postponing the 2021 AFCON.

“We can’t keep spending time dealing with rumours,” Siewe told BBC Sport Africa.

“We did not receive any other message or information from our leaders – nothing such as changing of dates or countries. We did not discuss such during all our last meetings.”

“We are on site. We are working.”

Siewe also confirmed that staff from the CAF arrived in Cameroon this week to organise the AFCON finals.

“An official delegation from CAF has been released and general secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba is joining us in two days,” he added.

The 2021 AFCON was initially scheduled to hold in 2021 but was postponed to January 9 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.