Senegal protest at squad being halved for AFCON qualifiers by French block on players

By Samindra Kunti

March 19 – The Senegal FA (FSF) has written a letter of protest to their French counterpart (FFF), objecting to French league’s decision to block players from playing in the final round of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

Earlier this week French Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs invoked FIFA’s coronavirus rules to prevent non-European players from traveling for international team duty. The ban has hit March’s qualifiers for Africa Cup of Nations. Competitive international football in South America and Asia on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulty of securing player releases.

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse’s 26-man squad for the qualifiers against Congo on March 26 and Eswatini on March 30 features 12 players based in France.

“The latter not having reacted within the period of six days foreseen cannot wait less than 5 days before the start of the international window ‘from March 22 to 31’ to issue a press release in order to justify a refusal to release so targeted foreign players summoned by matches outside the EU / EEA zone,” said the Senegalese letter.

“In addition to the damage that this may cause, relative to the non-participation of the 12 players summoned by the Lions coach, it seems to highlight the totally discriminatory nature of this measure with regard to the statutory provisions and FIFA regulations and European legislation on equality and contractual freedom for players.”

Senegal have already qualified for the continental finals, which will take place in Cameroon in 2022. However, the FSF insists a solution should be found.

“In this case it is by no means established that the clubs concerned have met the French authorities in order to allow the players to benefit from this exemption,” the letter continued.  “Taking all these considerations into account, we would be grateful if you, in view of the very short deadlines and the damage incurred, kindly take the appropriate measures for the release, by the French professional clubs, players regularly summoned by the Senegalese Football Federation.”

At a new conference ahead of the final two qualifier against Burundi and Mauritania, Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic encouraged all African players to honour their call-ups and ignore the position of their clubs. “This circular authorises clubs to prevent players from joining their national teams, only African players,” said Halilhodzic. “I am quite skeptical about this circular, why is there a difference between African footballers and European footballers? This quarantine is just a pretext to prevent the player from coming to play for his country.”

“FIFA touched on an article it should never have touched on, the relationship between clubs and national teams. If today we prevent the players from coming for this camp, what will happen tomorrow for the African Cup of Nations? It’s not going to end there”

Halilhodzic didn’t mince his words. He continued: “We’ve talked to all the players on the list and they’re all okay with coming. If someone doesn’t come, I understand that they refused to come. I will be uncompromising. (…) But there will be terrible pressure [on the players], for sure. I hope that all my colleagues from the African teams will show their complete dissatisfaction.”

Benin’s head coach Michel Dussuyer has already indicated that he was left scrambling to get enough players together for his team’s matches against Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Last month, FIFA wrote in a circular that clubs were not under the obligation to release players if there is a “mandatory period of quarantine or self-isolation of at least five days upon arrival” in the country where the club is located or the country where the match is taking place.

The global governing body didn’t reply when asked to comment on the matter.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1618295940labto1618295940ofdlr1618295940owedi1618295940sni@o1618295940fni1618295940