Ian Wright said the coverage of AFCON is tinged with racism. Photo - Getty Images

Former Arsenal and England legendary striker, Ian Wright, condemned a number of members of the media as well as clubs for their handling of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The criticism of European media coverage comes at a time when racist incidents have marred European football matches time and again, and at a time when efforts are being stepped up to root out racism from the sport once and for all.

The Africa Cup of Nations is being “disrespected by some negative media coverage”, said Wright.

The 24-team competition features a host of Premier League and European stars. The build-up to the tournament, which kicked off on January 9, will see a number of teams in the Premier League and other top European leagues lose key players in the middle of the domestic season.

&Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?& Wright said on Instagram

On the media coverage around Afcon he declared: &There is no greater honour than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism.

“We played our Euros across 10 countries in the middle of a pandemic and there’s no issue at all. But Cameroon, a single country hosting a tournament, is a problem.

“There are players getting asked if they will be honouring the call-ups to their national teams. Imagine if that was an England player representing the Three Lions. Can you imagine the furore?”

Despite efforts from several external parties to delay the competition, the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will start next Sunday 9 December, in Cameroon.

The European Club Association (ECA) had sent a letter to FIFA in which they explained why they are reluctant to send their players to compete in AFCON, with their main concern being the lack of a suitable medical and operational protocol in the tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino even backed the idea of postponing the tournament, believing it would be better if the AFCON is played in September.

Some clubs even took action and have denied their players to participate in the tournament, namely Watford striker Emmanuel Dennis.

Wright’s passionate message was noted by Samuel Eto’o, arguably the best African footballer of all-time, and now the current president of the Cameroon Football Association.

He wrote on Twitter: “Respect Ian Wright! 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.”

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira is among those to also call for the tournament to be given more respect.

“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,& the ex-Arsenal captain said.

“I believe that that competition needs to be more respected – because this competition is as important as the European Championships.&

He also challenged more European journalists to take a greater interest in the event and appreciate exactly what it means for the African continent.

“It might be important for you guys to cover the Africa Cup of Nations a little bit more and to go to Africa and interview people to really understand what it means for every single one of them,” he said.

“When you are talking about Senegal, I don’t think people would really understand if (Sadio) Mane or Cheikou Kouyate didn’t represent their nation. If there was more coverage of that competition, I think people will understand more how important it is for the African continent.”

Patrick Vieira – AFCON is as important as the European Championships. – Photo EPA

Former Newcastle, Tottenham and Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong, who has won 18 caps for Cameroon, said he recognised the double standard.

“People don’t really give any respect to the Africa Cup of Nations,& he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“At the end of the day, our national teams are just as important as the European ones and the others.

“When I was in a dressing room and every time I was going to a competition or on an international break, the respect and consideration was totally different from the club and the people from the club about the way we’re travelling, or when we should come back, or could we miss the international break?”

Ajax’s Ivory Coast striker Sebastien Haller said the suggestion a player would want to miss the tournament to play for their club “shows the disrespect for Africa.”

He told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “Would this question ever have been asked to a European player towards a European Championship?

“Of course, I will represent Ivory Coast. That is the highest honour.”

However, the 27-year-old said having to miss club games “is very frustrating.”

Haller added: “I hate having to choose between my country and my club.”

Title hopefuls Liverpool face significant absences, with the Premier League’s leading scorer Mohamed Salah, fellow forward Sadio Mane and midfielder Naby Keita taking part in the tournament.

“Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African,” said Wright.

“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.

“I want to wish Cameroon every success in hosting this tournament and all the very best to the players and the fans.”

Meanwhile, Kelechi Iheanacho has called on all players participating teams in the Africa Cup of Nations to show the rest of the world how great football on the continent is.

Kelechi Iheanacho has called on all players participating teams in the AFCON to show the rest of the world how great football on the continent is. Getty Images

He told talksport.com: “We need to keep doing what we’re doing and do our best and keep showing the world that Africa deserves more and there are more opportunities for good footballers over there.

“Our competition needs to be looked at as well but I think we need to prove with our play that our competition is underrated by doing extraordinary things on the pitch, by scoring goals, by performing really well so when we do that it will speak for itself.”

But Simon Jordan challenged Wright’s claims and insisted these questions are merely being asked as AFCON 2021 is taking place in the middle of the domestic season and not in the summer.

Jordan took Wright to task for his criticism of coverage of AFCON

He said on White and Jordan: “Racism is a subject that needs to be attended to and when racism occurs it needs to be dealt with and needs to be squashed and most sane-minded people would want to see that and see that manifest itself.

“When you start hearing people like Ian Wright make overtures and observations about tournaments being tinged or people’s responses to players going away to play in a tournament that lands in the middle of a season – you’re not comparing and contrasting properly, Ian.

“You’re trying to make a point on a very sensitive subject and what you do when making points like that is you discredit the idea of racism where it legitimately exists and needs to be removed.

“A tournament played in the middle of a season, compare it to the European Championship in the summer, when players aren’t being demanded things from their domestic paymasters.

“Compare the World Cup [in 2022] – okay we know it’s in November but the season is being curtailed. If the Africa Cup of Nations want to get into negotiations with the Premier League and the leagues around the globe to be able to curtail their leagues, they can have that conversation.” – bbc.com; talksport.com; kingfut.com

AFCON is being disrespected

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