The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has postponed this month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement on Friday, Caf said the 48 matches scheduled to run between 25-31 March have been postponed until further notice even though only a few cases have been reported on the continent.
“Several players, who are supposed to play the next Afcon qualifiers, come from countries which have been severely affected by the virus (in) Europe and Asia,” Caf wrote to member associations.
Caf also explained that many African governments have imposed strong travel restrictions, which require 14 days of quarantine, on those arriving from Europe.
At present, at least 18 African nations have reported cases of coronavirus.
To prevent one life means more than any matchesMilutin ‘Micho’ SredojevicZambia coach
Meanwhile, some European clubs – particularly those in Italy, which is in lockdown because of the outbreak – are reluctant to release players because of the virus.
Caf had previously said it would “maintain its schedule” until an African country was declared high-risk.
Since that statement on Wednesday, the outbreak has been upgraded to a pandemic while African football’s ruling body had also faced pressure from several countries to suspend the qualifiers.
No date has been given for when the matches, to be played in nearly 50 countries across the continent, could be played but Caf said it will “share a new proposal of a calendar”.
“To prevent one life means more than any matches,” Zambia coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic told BBC Sport Africa.
“Ethically-speaking, no match is more valuable than any life. Football may be ‘life’ to us but when it comes to preventing certain things, no boundaries are supposed to be crossed in that regard.”
Both the Women’s Under-20 World Cup qualifiers scheduled for later this month and April’s Women’s 2020 Nations Cup qualifiers have also been postponed.
Caf did not postpone next month’s African Nations Championship (Chan), which is scheduled to take place in Cameroon between 4-25 April, on account of a forthcoming visit this weekend.
A delegation from Caf’s medical committee is set to visit Cameroon – which has reported two cases of coronavirus so far – on Saturday and Sunday, with a view to assessing ‘the preventive measures taken by the Local Organising Committee’ ahead of the tournament for players based in their own leagues.
“A decision will be taken after the inspection visit,” Caf added.