Zimbabwe players are threatening to boycott Friday’s opening game of the African Cup of Nations against host Egypt because they haven’t been paid, raising the prospect of another major embarrassment for African soccer at the end of one of its worst weeks.
Players and a team official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation said a meeting with federation officials at the team hotel on Thursday failed to resolve the standoff.
Zimbabwe is due to open Africa’s top tournament against Mohamed Salah and Egypt in Cairo.
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The players refused to train on the eve of the game and spent most of the day in their hotel rooms before emerging to meet with officials. They are 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.
One of the people with knowledge of the situation said some players had asked to be released from the squad so they could return home.
The Zimbabwe Football Association said in a statement that the game against Egypt would go ahead and there was no strike threat, but that was countered by the five players and the team official who spoke to the AP. They said there was still a deadlock in the negotiations.
A player strike to start its top tournament would leave African soccer in a mess.
World body FIFA announced Thursday it was taking steps to clean up the continent’s governing body, the Confederation of African Football, which 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 sexual harassment of staff at CAF.
He has denied the allegations but it’s unclear if he’ll play a leading role at the African Cup, which runs until July 19.
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.