Africa Cup of Nations ‘disrespected’ more than any other tournament

The Africa Cup of Nations is “disrespected” more than any other international tournament, according to former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright.

Wright said aspects of the coverage of the tournament, which will be held in Cameroon from Jan.9 to Feb.6, are “tinged with racism” after players were made to defend their decision to represent their national teams during the domestic season.

In a video posted on Instagram, Wright said: “I’ve got to get something off my chest and I’ve got to ask something: is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?

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“There is no greater honour as a sportsperson than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism, completely tinged. You are getting players asked by journalists if they will be honouring the call-ups to their national teams.

“Could you imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions? Could you imagine the furore?”

Ajax and Ivory Coast striker Sebastien Haller said the questioning of his decision to play for his country “shows the disrespect for Africa” and would not be put to a European player ahead of a European Championship.

In the Premier League, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are all set to be without key players during the tournament but Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has backed those in his squad, including Ivory Coast’s Wilfried Zaha and Ghana‘s Jordan Ayew, to represent their countries in Cameroon.

“I respect and understand the passion and the importance to players to go and represent their country so I will never stop any player going to play the Africa Cup of Nations,” Vieira said. “I believe that competition needs to be more respected, because this competition is as important as the European Championships.”

The 24-team tournament was originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021 before it was brought forward to the winter due to concerns over the hot climate in host country Cameroon.

It was then delayed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while tournament organisers have confirmed that will go ahead as planned next month despite the spread of the Omicron variant.

“We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there was no issue,” Wright added. “But Cameroon, a single country, hosting the tournament is a problem?

“Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African. If we love them at club level why can’t we love them at international level like their counterparts across the globe? Why is this tournament constantly getting so much flak?

“I have got to give a shout out to the players like Sebastien Haller who are taking a stand against the media backlash, plus Patrick Vieira for coming out and speaking about this. This is why it is important to have a Black manager who can let people understand where his roots are and how important this tournament is for African people.”

Former Cameroon and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, who is now president of the Cameroon Football Federation, replied to Wright’s video: “Respect. 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.”