Football and government officials in the Gabonese Republic have gone on record to say that issues with stadiums and widespread political protests have been ironed out ahead of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, which is set to inaugurate on January 14. Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, political activists were calling for a boycott of the Cup as a means of protesting the contested re-election of Gabonese President Ali Bongo. Those boycott plans have mostly subsided; alas, another type of boycott emerged among some Indomitable Lions from the African football powerhouse of Cameroon.
It appears that up to seven Cameroonian players currently signed by European clubs are retaliating against their national football federation and do not wish to be capped for the Cup. The list includes Liverpool star Joel Matip; it so happens that this club was leading the Premier League just two weeks before the Cup’s opening day. One more Premier League star from Cameroon is abstaining as well as a handful of players signed by French clubs. The Cameroonian federation could protest the situation by asking FIFA to issue sanctions against these seemingly unpatriotic players so that they would have to sit out a few matches at their high-profile European clubs.
English football fans are rightly concerned that their clubs will miss key players, particularly dangerous strikers and prolific scorers, due to the Cup. Such is the case with Senegal’s Sadio Mané from Liverpool, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City and Egypt’s Mohammed Elneny of Arsenal. The consensus among African football fans is that their British counterparts should just “Keep Calm and Carry On” as their favorite club players match up against national teams that are currently producing great talent all over the world. Other national squads at the Cup will miss key players such as Cicero Semedo from Guinea-Bissau, who plays in Portugal, but is injured. West Ham United’s Sofiane Feghouli from Algeria was not called up by an overconfident manager. Gervinho from the Ivory Coast is injured and may not be able to play. Ghana’s Kwadwo Asamoah, a star who plays for the legendary Italian club Juventus, has not fully recovered from a knee ailment.
The squad representing the Democratic Republic of Congo is missing various local stars due to very unfortunate political conflicts between the government and the professional league in that turbulent country. Football superstars are very important for tournaments such as the Africa Cup of Nations; they are the reason the cameras from Eurosport, ESPN and BeIN Sports will be in Gabon starting on January 14. It is difficult to imagine a Copa America without Lionel Messi scoring goals for Argentina or Neymar playing for Brazil, and the same can be said of the Euro Cup without Ronaldo playing for Portugal or Sergio Ramos defending for Spain.
It is worth mentioning that stars such as Mané and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were born in Europe and could choose to be capped for their native squads; notwithstanding this option, the call of the Continent is often strong. These players know the importance of football for the citizens with whom they share a strong cultural bond, and they know that they will bring joy to many fans besieged by sociopolitical and economic conflicts that can make life very difficult for a few African nations.
The Africa Cup of Nations is almost here. The time has come to set aside any conflicts and replace them with the spirit of the beautiful game in a major international tournament.