Africa

CAR's football players in limbo after conflict

Mark Gleeson

The last three members of the Central African Republic's World Cup football party left Johannesburg on Tuesday night to an uncertain future.

The footballers have instead gone to neighbouring Cameroon to wait for the situation in Bangui to stabilise. (Gallo)

Unable to return home because of the coup in the country that cost the lives of 13 South African Defence Force soldiers and a number of their compatriots at the weekend.

The footballers have instead gone to neighbouring Cameroon to wait for the situation in Bangui to stabilise. Post-coup reports of lone gunmen and looters roaming the streets of the Central African Republic's capital suggest it might be a while.

Just two of the 23-man squad are based at clubs in the Central African Republic, the rest are spread across the world from Azerbaijan to Thailand, mostly scratching out a ­living as journeymen professionals.


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But all the support staff, including top federation officials and coach Herve Loungoundji, are Bangui-based and are now in limbo.

They stayed behind in Cape Town for two extra nights after Saturday's 2-0 defeat by Bafana Bafana before heading to Douala.

The football federation's vice- president, Gregoire Zowaye, who led the delegation, told reporters of the frustration of being unable to talk to his family to check on the situation because mobile networks in the country had gone down.

Technical ability
It was tragically ironic that while the South African troops were fighting for their lives against rebels in a country with a long and bloody ­history, the football teams from the two nations were competing in a World Cup qualifier.

The match on Saturday had moments of irascibility, but nothing out of the ordinary for a game with so much at stake.

The Central African Republic players were particularly physical in their approach, not because of any kind of vicious intent but rather owing to a need to compensate for their lack of technical ability.

The game was played to the backdrop of middle-class tranquillity at the Cape Town Stadium, the only local venue since the 2010 World Cup to require spectators to take up specifically allocated seats as well as offer beer and hamburgers to a well-heeled crowd drawn from across the city's varied demographics.

This was all in stark contrast with the pictures emerging of the fighting in Bangui.

But the South African government's munificence in providing a fighting force to try to hold off the rebels during the coup was strangely mirrored at the weekend by the ­hospitality offered to a rag-tag Central African side.

For the past year, the rules of travelling to World Cup fixtures have changed and visiting teams are now required to fend for themselves – down to even securing and paying for pre-match training venues in the country they are competing in.

In the past they just had to pay to get to the country they were set to play in and the hosts would supply the rest – a maximum of five nights of accommodation for 30 members of their party, as well as transport and training facilities.

The Central Africans arrived alleging they were not aware of this arrangement and did not have the cash to pay for the stay, so they had a week on the house, courtesy of the South African Football Association and the Cape Town taxpayers.

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