Ian Wright: Africa Cup of Nations coverage is ‘completely tinged with racism’

Former England striker Ian Wright has hit out at the disrespect “tinged with racism” which he feels is shown by some to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Wright’s comments came as players who have been selected by their countries for the tournament in Cameroon, which gets under way on January 9, prepare to meet up with their international team-mates during busy programmes in Europe’s domestic leagues and with Covid-19 making an impact on fixture schedules.

In a video posted on his official Instagram account, the former Crystal Palace and Arsenal striker said: “I’ve just got a little something off my chest. I’ve got to ask some people out there, is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?

“There’s no greater honour, none, as a sportsperson than representing your country. The coverage is completely tinged with racism, completely tinged.

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

“You’re getting players being asked if they will be honouring the call-ups for their national teams, if they will be ‘honouring’. Imagine if that was an English player representing the Three Lions?

“Have you ever heard anybody asking an English player will they be ‘honouring’ a call-up? Can you imagine the furore?

“Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African and if we love them at club level, why can’t we love them at international level like their counterparts from across the globe? Why can’t we?

“Why is this tournament constantly getting so much flak?”

Wright received the backing of former Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o, the current president of the Cameroon Football Federation.

Eto’o tweeted: “Respect @IanWright0. 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.”

Palace boss Patrick Vieira had earlier issued a similar call for respect for the tournament, a message reiterated by Ajax’s Ivory Coast striker Sebastien Haller, who admitted his regret at having to choose between club and country.

Haller told De Telegraaf: “I hate having to choose between my country and my club. That’s really s***.”

Wright added: “I’ve got to say shout-out to the countries that have qualified, the players – like Sebastien Haller – who have taken a stand against the media backlash, plus Patrick Vieira coming out and speaking about this.

“This is again why it’s important that you do have a black manager who can let people understand where his roots are and how important this tournament is for African people. This shaming has gone on for too long.

“I just want to wish Cameroon all the success in hosting this tournament and, like I say, to the players, all the very, very best to you and the fans.”