FORMER England striker Ian Wright has hit out at the disrespect ‘tinged with racism’ which he feels is shown by some to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Wright’s comments came as players who have been selected by their countries for the tournament in Cameroon, which gets under way on January 9, prepare to meet up with their international team-mates during busy programmes in Europe’s domestic leagues and with Covid-19 making an impact on fixture schedules.
In a video posted on his official Instagram account, the former Crystal Palace and Arsenal striker said: ‘I’ve just got a little something off my chest. I’ve got to ask some people out there, is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?
‘There’s no greater honour, none, as a sportsperson than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism, completely tinged.
‘We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there’s no issue, no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament, is a problem?
‘You’re getting players being asked if they will be honouring the call-ups for their national teams, if they will be “honouring”. Imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions?
‘Have you ever heard anybody asking an English player will they be “honouring” a call-up? Can you imagine the furore?
‘Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African and if we love them at club level, why can’t we love them at international level like their counterparts from across the globe? Why can’t we?
‘Why is this tournament constantly getting so much flak?’
Wright received the backing of former Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o, the current president of the Cameroon Football Federation.
Eto’o tweeted: ‘Respect @IanWright0. There’s no greater honour for a sportsperson than representing your country. The Africa Cup of Nations is a celebration of African pride, and next week’s AFCON will once more prove the undeniable greatness of African players.’
Palace boss Patrick Vieira had earlier issued a similar call for respect for the tournament, a message reiterated by Ajax’s Cote d’Ivoire striker Sebastien Haller, who admitted his regret at having to choose between club and country.
Haller told De Telegraaf: ‘I hate having to choose between my country and my club. That’s really s***.’
Wright added: ‘I’ve got to say shout-out to the countries that have qualified, the players – like Sebastien Haller – who have taken a stand against the media backlash, plus Patrick Vieira coming out and speaking about this.
‘This is again why it’s important that you do have a black manager who can let people understand where his roots are and how important this tournament is for African people. This shaming has gone on for too long.
‘I just want to wish Cameroon all the success in hosting this tournament and, like I say, to the players, all the very, very best to you and the fans.’
Earlier this month, the manager of the Senegal national team called out Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp for his comments on the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
Klopp was involved in a heated debate after he described the competition as a ‘little tournament’ but later clarified that his comments had been misinterpreted, clashing with a journalist and claiming that he used the phrase figuratively.
But the Senegal boss, Aliou Cisse, was not impressed with his comments and highlighted that the German will be losing key players from his Liverpool side.
Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita are all set to feature for their respective nations at the tournament and Cisse questioned the attitude Klopp has towards the competition.
‘Who does Klopp think he is?’ he said, as per the Daily Express.
‘I manage Senegal and my players play for Klopp at Liverpool.
‘I respect Liverpool but not Klopp who undermines African football events.’
The former Portsmouth midfielder then added that without several of his African stars, Klopp would not have the accolades he has won during his time at Anfield.
‘He is where he is today because of African footballers,’ Cisse continued.
‘He was losing every final until Salah, Mane, Matip came to his rescue to win his first-ever major European final.
‘Today, he has the guts to call AFCON a “small tournament”. AFCON has the same number of participants, 24, as the UEFA Euro. So who does he think he is?
‘AFCON will have the same superstars that are currently helping him to shine at Liverpool. AFCON is the same quality as the Euros.’