CAF has succumbed to pressure from most of its member associations and has indefinitely postponed the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The development comes barely a day after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) insisted that its competitions would go ahead as planned despite several countries raising concerns over the spread of the deadly scourge.
The continental showpiece’s next qualifiers were slated for March 25 to 31 and the Flames were set to face Burkina Faso’s Stallions in back-to-back contests.
Part of a statement released by the CAF on Friday, signed by its acting secretary general Abdel Bah, reads: “We will share with you a proposal of a new calendar that will be communicated on a second step, according to the evolution of the coronavirus situation.
“Please rest assured that CAF is always in contact with WHO [World Health Organisation] to get updated reports on Africa’s situation and CAF medical committee are carrying out many inspection visits to the countries hosting the final tournaments.”
It further states that CAF’s priority remains the health and safety of its stakeholders such as players, sponsors, officials and broadcasters.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary Alfred Gunda said they had been waiting for CAF to give them direction considering the critical situation and the trends globally.
“We had put resources into preparations, but for the safety of Malawians, we have welcomed the development.
“Though it is a bitter pill to swallow, the postponement comes as a relief. In fact, as an FA [Football Association], we had asked government through the Malawi National Council of Sports to give us guidance as the situation has gone beyond football,” he said.
The FAM GS said in view of the development, they will withdraw their preperations for the tournament until CAF communicates on the way forward.
Flames stand-in captain John ‘CJ’ Banda commended CAF “for taking an ideal and wise decision considering the crisis that the pandemic has caused”.
He said: “The situation was worrisome and it would have been risky to go ahead with the qualifiers.”
The coronavirus has affected sport globally leading to the suspension of many tournaments and leagues.
The English Premier League was on Friday suspended to April 3. Similarly, the top-flight leagues in Spain, Italy, Portugal and The Netherlands have been suspended while the German’s Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 are staging remaining matches behind closed doors.
As of on Friday, more than 4 600 people had died of the scourge and over 126 000 had been infected globally, according to WHO.