Sports

DR Congo risks losing AFCON spot over govt interference in football affairs

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faces the wrath of the World Football Governing body – FIFA and continental body – CAF with a stern warning that should President Félix Tshisekedi and his administration continue to interfere with the operations of TP Mazembe, they risk severe consequences.

According to the football governing bodies, the potential consequences include being banned from international football, with The Leopards (as they are often called by their nickname) facing the prospect of being stripped of their place at the Africa Cup of Nations and the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

The warning from FIFA and CAF comes as a result of the recent incident which forced CAF to relocate the newly introduced elite African Club League championship match between TP Mazembe and Esperance.

Originally scheduled to take place in Lubumbashi, the Congolese authorities declined to provide visas to CAF officials and broadcast crew, citing concerns that the match was boosting the popularity of opposition leader Moise Katumbi ahead of the upcoming December 20, 2023, presidential elections.

In response to the hurdles faced in organizing the match, CAF had no choice but to move the venue from Lubumbashi to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

While the decision was made in the interest of ensuring the match could proceed, CAF expressed frustration at the inconvenience and logistical costs incurred due to the last-minute change.

“We have informed the Congolese government that we are not interested in their internal political situation because all countries do this. They are not the first ones to have elections. But if they’re going to interfere with our competitions, we will have no option but to exclude them from all competitions, including the Africa Cup and World Cup,” an official at CAF stated

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After receiving the warning from CAF and FIFA, the Congolese government swiftly revoked their initial decision and authorized the issuance of 60 visas to CAF officials.

However, this action came too late, as CAF had already taken the decision to relocate the match to another country.

TP Mazembe Manager, Kitengie Kinkumba, expressed gratitude for the government’s change of heart but expressed regret at the timing.

“Yesterday Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., the management of the DGM sent me a letter containing almost 60 visas. We say thank you very much. But if this had happened on Sunday morning as I explained to their manager, we wouldn’t be here. What time wasted on a useless mistake,” Kinkumba stated.

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As tension continues to escalate between the football authorities and the Congolese government, the fate of DRC’s participation in the Africa Cup and World Cup qualifiers hangs in the balance. 

The potential exclusion of the Leopards from international competitions underscores the seriousness of the situation and the urgent need for political interference to be kept out of football affairs.

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