By Eddie Chikamhi
Football Union of Zimbabwe have raised the red flag with a declaration that sending the Warriors to Algeria for a 2021 AFCON qualifier will be a massive gamble which could backfire terribly.
The Algerian city of Blida, where the match is scheduled to be held, has become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Africa.
About 20 cases have been detected in the town.
There have been suggestions the Algerian authorities will try and shift the venue of the match to the capital Algiers.
Other reports say they were prepared to have the match played behind closed doors.
FUZ president, Desmond Maringwa, yesterday said it was too dangerous to travel to Algeria at this juncture and pleaded with the authorities to take the necessary measures to protect the players’ health.
“The AFCON qualifier is a very important fixture but we need to take all the precautionary measures to make sure that our players are safe,’’ he said.
“We have heard the Algerian authorities are doing their best, including banning public gatherings, and playing games behind closed doors.
“That just goes to show the seriousness of the pandemic in that part of the world.
“So, we also need to protect our players and officials. Algeria have the highest number of infections and we should be writing to CAF seeking postponement of the game.
“Or, we could make arrangements for it to be played elsewhere where the risks are minimal.
“At the moment it’s too dangerous to travel to the areas deemed coronavirus hotspots. We cannot put the players at risk because of something that the authorities have power over.’’
Last week, President Mnangagwa banned foreign trips for Government officials and civil servants as part of the measures to minimise the risks among Zimbabweans.
Algeria this week placed their top-flight league games under a lockdown and ordered the remaining Ligue 1 matches to be played behind closed doors.
Former Warriors coach, Tom Saintfiet, said the qualifiers set for this month should be moved to another date.
The Belgian, who is now in charge of Gambia, said his team could not fulfil their AFCON match against Gabon because seven of his best players were not available for national duty.
The players ply their trade in Italy, which has been the hardest hit country in Europe.
“Maybe, we can postpone only the March games for now — as soon as possible — so that people don’t have extra costs, and also have time to plan,” Saintfiet told BBC Sport.
“We still have dates (available).
“Normally, in June, there is only one qualification game, so we could easily play two in June, and two in September, and then the four last AFCON qualifiers would be finished on the same date that they would have finished before.
“So, if you look to the health of the public, of African people, of our players and staff members — around travelling, taking risks, importing the virus from Europe, and, maybe, also having the top players not travel, which could have consequences on the performances of teams, and could be an unfair battle — I think it would be very correct, fair and professional to decide, as soon as possible, to postpone the games.”
Zimbabwe’s Europe-based players are likely to be affected by the travel restrictions.
The foreign-based Warriors led by Belgium based captain Knowledge Musona were set to fly direct to Algeria.
The other European based players are Marvelous Nakamba (England), Alec Mudimu (Moldova), Tino Kadewere (France), Marshal Munetsi (France) and Teenage Hadebe (Turkey).
“These guys will be required by their clubs to go into quarantine on their return to their clubs and it will be difficult for some of them,’’ said Maringwa.
“FIFA have cancelled the Asian World Cup qualifiers and UEFA have taken some serious measures as well. We also need to be cautious.’’
Sports and Recreation Commission director general, Prince Mupazviriho, yesterday said Government was monitoring the risk of participating in international events.
“We are actually concerned about the health and safety of all our athletes and officials. ZIFA have written to us and we are aware of the situation in Algeria,’’ he said.
“But it’s not only about football, as you know every sporting event that needs travelling is cleared by the Sports Commission.
“We have quite a number of commitments that need individuals and teams to travel.
“We are closely monitoring what’s going on around the world with regards to the coronavirus pandemic and we are consulting the relevant authorities.
“We stand guided by what the Government and the health authorities say,” said Mupazviriho.
CAF have said they are monitoring developments related to the spread of coronavirus.
The continental football governing body are yet to respond to concerns raised by Zimbabwe over travelling to Algeria.
They have appointed Cameroonian, Alioum Alioum, to be the centre referee.
He will be assisted by compatriots Noupue Nguegoue and Sanda Oumarou.
The fourth referee is also Cameroonian Blaise Yuven Ngwa while Mauritanian Massa Diarra is the match commissioner.
The return match at Orlando stadium in South Africa will be officiated by a Sudanese trio led by centre referee Mahmood Ali Mahmood Ismail with Mohammed Abdallah Ibrahim and Ahmed Nagei Subahi as assistants.
The fourth referee is Elsiddig Mohamed Eltreefe, also of Sudan.
Raoul Romain Arizaka Rabekoto of Madagascar is the match commissioner.
South Africa has been the most affected country in the Southern African region with 13 cases confirmed to date. The Herald