Former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright says media coverage of Europe-based players travelling to the Africa Cup of Nations is “disrespectful” and “tinged with racism”.
The 24-team competition begins on January 9 and will feature a host of leading Premier League players, with Sky Sports showing all 52 games live.
Wright said coverage of the tournament and the issue of player release during the European season, is in marked contrast to how Euro 2020 was treated.
“Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?” Wright said in a video posted on Instagram.
“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.”
Footballers heading to the Africa Cup of Nations finals will be allowed to play for their clubs until January 3.
Wright added that he objected to players being asked whether or not they intend to play for their countries.
“You are getting journalists asking players … players getting asked if they will be honouring the call-ups to their national teams. Imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions. Can you imagine the furore?”
Premier League title hopefuls Liverpool will be without Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Guinea’s Naby Keita.
Crystal Palace will be missing Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Ayew and Cheikhou Kouyate, but their manager Patrick Vieira said there was no question of trying to persuade them to skip the finals.
“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,” Vieira said, while calling for media to cover the event more seriously.
Wright said the players and countries deserved more respect.
“Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African,” noted the 58-year-old, who made 33 appearances for England.
“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?”
AFCON kicks off on January 9 and the group stages finish on January 20.
The round of 16 takes place from January 23 to January 26, while the quarter-finals are on January 29 and 30.
It is a busy schedule with the semi-finals on February 2 and 3, and the conclusion of the tournament on February 6 with the final and the third-place play-off.
- January 9 – AFCON group stage starts
- January 20 – AFCON group stage ends
- January 23 to 26 – AFCON last 16
- January 29 and 30 – AFCON quarter-finals
- February 2 and 3 – AFCON semi-finals
- February 6 – AFCON final and third-place play-off