African Football and the Dangerous Politics of ‘Positive’ Covid-19 Tests

Simba football club are in the center of a growing plague

A new trend is gathering momentum in African football, and the sooner the football governing body on the continent, the Confederation of African Football takes charge of the situation, the better it would be, before the whole thing descends into wholesale chaos.

In December 2020, Plateau United of Nigeria travelled to Tanzania to face the Champions of the 2019/2020 Ligi Kuu Bara, Simba. The Tanzanian team had won the first leg 1-0 in Jos, but on arrival at Dar-es-Salaam the pair of Abubakar Ibrahim ‘Babawo’ and Sunday Adetunji were declared ‘Covid-19 positive’ and prevented from playing crucial away leg.

At that point, officials of the Nigerian side protested that the two players had tested negative just days prior to their departure from Lagos; but all their complaints fell on deaf ears. And they never took the complaints beyond moaning to the press, they didn’t file an official complaint with CAF.

Fast forward toMarch. Now, the East African side are now in the Group Stages of the CAF Champions League and cruising, but Sudanese side Al-Merreikh are claiming something fishy is going on, after they were also subjected to the Dar-es-Salaam Covid-19 test protocols, and a whopping eight of their players returned ‘positive tests’.

The Sudanese side are calling for Simba SC to be thrown out of the competition for falsifying coronavirus test results, and Ahmed Abbas, the legal adviser for Al-Merrikh has filed an official complaint after the eight players returned negative results following further tests.

Nigerian side Plateau United were the first to raise the alarm about the tests

El-Merreikh claim that a delegate from Simba Club, and not from the Tanzania Football Federation handled the team tests, and they asked for postponement so the other players could be evaluated, CAF refused the request. It didn’t help that the coach of Simba, Didier Gomes, used to coach Al-Merrikh, and the eight ‘infected’ players were the backbone of the team.

But even before El-Merreikh, South African side, Platinum Stars had also made some noise in the media. In their own case, five players were flagged as positive just before the second leg tie that Platinum lost 4-0 and were knocked out.

And the spate of suspicious infections has also been reported at national team level. During the African Nations Championships held at Cameroon in February, five players from DR Congo were flagged as positive before their opening game against neighbours, Congo Republic. They also had positive results before they faced Libya in their second game.

Then in March, the President of Kenya Football Federation, Nick Mwendwa, claimed the Togo federation wrongfully tagged four Harambee Stars players as ‘positive’ for Covid-19 ahead of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match. The four players were negative before departing Kenya. The Kenyans had been told six players were positive before they faced Comoros in November, and had been extra careful.

And Mwendwa has suggested a simple solution: that CAF should consider having neutral doctors handle the tests.

That may be the best way forward. In Africa any advantage, legal or illegal, that allows a team win games becomes a fad. And if care is not taken, the pandemic of one-sided ‘positive’ coronavirus tests may soon consume the continent, if it continues to go unchecked.

That is why the call for CAF to appoint neutral doctors, or have CAF be in sole charge of tests for both home and away games before contests, may be the next best step.

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