Zimbabwe turns up for African Cup opener after strike threat
Zimbabwe players turned up for the opening game of the African Cup of Nations against host Egypt on Friday after threatening to boycott because they hadn’t been paid.
The strike threat raised the prospect of another major embarrassment for African soccer at the end of one of its worst weeks.
The Zimbabwe players refused to train on the eve of the game and spent most of Thursday in their hotel rooms before emerging to meet with federation officials. They were demanding to be paid their allowances for the African Cup, along with allowances and match fees still owed to them from a regional tournament last month.
The standoff was resolved on the day of the game, and the Zimbabwe squad arrived on time to take on Mohamed Salah’s Egypt at Cairo International Stadium.
The Zimbabweans sang and danced, with one recording them on a cellphone as they entered the stadium.
A player strike to start its top tournament would have left African soccer in even more of a mess.
FIFA announced the day before it was taking steps to clean up the Confederation of African Football. CAF is plagued by allegations of corruption and financial misconduct against its president and is an organizational shambles.
FIFA is sending its secretary general Fatma Samoura to lead the African confederation for an initial six-month term starting in August, when she will oversee a complete forensic audit of the organization that runs soccer’s largest continental confederation.
CAF president Ahmad, who goes by one name, was detained by French authorities while attending a FIFA meeting in Paris this month and questioned. He was released but is the subject of that criminal investigation and an ethics committee investigation by FIFA, where he is a vice president.
The Madagascan is accused of negotiating improper business deals as head of CAF and of bribing African soccer presidents. He’s also accused of misusing official money to buy himself luxury cars, and of sexual harassment of staff at CAF. He has denied the allegations.
Ahmad sat next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the African Cup’s opening ceremony before the Egypt-Zimbabwe game.
Player strikes have become common among African teams at major tournaments. A number had strikes, or threatened strikes, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and 2017 African Cup in Gabon.
In one case, Ghana’s government hurriedly sent a chartered plane full of bundles of cash to Brazil to hand out to its players to ensure they played.