World Cup qualifying round between South African and the Central African Republic moved to Cameroon
May 9, 2013
The 2014 World Cup qualifying game between South Africa between the Central African Republic (CAR) originally scheduled to take place in CAR capital Bangui has been moved to Cameroon's Yaounde. The game will take place June 9 and was relocated for safety reasons, as Bangui is currently under the control of rebel fighters.
"It would definitely not have been the right atmosphere to play there," South African nation team coach Gordon Igesund told the BBC.
South Africa has already lost troops to the CAR civil war
The impetus for the decision to move the game was an attempt to avoid sending South African players back to the same city where 14 of their countrymen died in skirmishes with rebel groups in March 2013. Approximately 200 South Africa troops were posted in Bangui as peacekeeping forces when rebel groups over-ran the capitol earlier in the year. Apart from the dead, 27 were wounded in the fighting with the CARs Seleka rebel group, the largest number of casualties suffered by soldiers since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The costly clash with rebel fighters led to broad criticism of South African President Jacob Zuma. According to the BBC, some accused Zuma of risking soldier's lives to protect national mining interests in the neighboring nation. The president has denied these accusations, adding mainlining South African soldiers were present to provide training and security, but he did withdraw South African forces shortly after the fatal attacks.
"We were in CAR on the basis of the agreement between the two countries. Our mission was to help train the soldiers," Zuma told South African broadcaster SABC, according to the BBC. "Since the coup and the self-appointment of rebels, it was clear that the government is no longer there."
Moving the game
Given the contentious recent history between the two nations and the general political instability in the CAR, the South African Football Association (SAFA) requested a change of venue for the game, a move which was approved by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
"I must commend Safa, Fifa and Caf for making this happen because we lost our loved ones there not so long ago and the environment is still too tense to have a match in that country," said coach Igesun to the BBC.
The South African coach noted he was confident in his teams ability to defeat the CAR, though he does believe it will be a tight match.
Whether the move will give South Africa an edge in it attempt to qualify for its first World Cup since 2004 is a subject that football fans around the world can discuss if they armed with an international calling card.