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Covid-19, Security Concerns Threaten Cameroon Football Tournament

Authorities Should Ensure Safety and Protection of AFCON Players, Fans

Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, Cameroon’s Minister of Sports and Physical Education, looks on as the Africa Cup of Nations trophy is presented in Yaounde, December 7, 2021. © 2021 Daniel Beloumou Olomo / AFP via Getty Images

The 33rd biennial African Cup of Nations (AFCON) football tournament will be held in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, 2022. But key questions linger about the government’s ability to guarantee the security and well-being of players and fans.

The European Football Club Association, international observers, and media, have raised concerns over the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to the large gathering of players and officials in Cameroon, as well as prevailing insecurity in the two English-speaking regions of the country where matches will be played.

Since 2017, the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon have been embroiled in cycles of violence between government forces and armed separatist groups seeking independence from the country. Several separatist leaders and activists have publicly threatened to disrupt AFCON if the authorities do not withdraw government troops from these regions. One group, citing its opposition to holding AFCON in the region, claimed responsibility for a December 12 bomb explosion that injured several people in a crowded neighborhood of Buea, the South-West regional capital. This is the fourth explosion in the city since November.  

Human Rights Watch has previously documented how the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions has severely curtailed people’s access to medical care and facilities, and how widespread corruption has drained most of the US$382 million in International Monetary Fund loans to Cameroon to fight Covid-19.

Despite these concerns, on December 20, Patrice Motsepe, President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), insisted the tournament will go ahead, while Cameroonian authorities have said they will ensure security around the event and deployed additional troops to the Anglophone regions to prevent armed separatist attacks. However, the history of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis shows that government response has often failed to protect bystanders from being attacked.

Cameroonian authorities have a responsibility to protect participating teams, officials, and fans from harm and to take measures to prevent attacks ahead of and during the AFCON tournament. They should refrain from holding matches in regions where they cannot guarantee the security of players and fans and put in place additional measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, including by limiting the number of fans attending the matches, and implementing a testing policy for all participants while providing support for those who need to isolate after testing positive.

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