Afcon 2023: Gambia coach fears team will die on tour to Ivory Coast

Afcon 2023: Gambia coach fears team will die on tour to Ivory Coast

Image source, Tom Saintfiet

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The Gambian delegation has refused to get back on the same plane for their trip to the Ivory Coast

The Gambia team traveling to the Ivory Coast for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations “could have died” in the canceled flight, coach Tom Saintfiet said.

An Air Cote d’Ivoire flight turned around minutes after taking off from the Gambian capital Banjul on Wednesday.

Saintfiet believes it was the lack of oxygen, he said, that caused many of the delegates to fall asleep.

The coach praised the pilot’s quick thinking in defending his team.

The airline officials confirmed that there had been a force majeure.

Saintfiet told BBC Sport Africa: “The local staff said there was a problem with the air conditioning before we took off but it will be fine when we take off.

“A few minutes later, the plane was very hot.

“We all fell asleep because there was no air – some of the players couldn’t be woken up. The pilot saw it and we had to go back.

“People were getting headaches and if the flight had lasted 30 minutes, the whole crew would have died. The amazing thing is that the oxygen masks didn’t come off – it’s good that the pilot realized that this was fatal and. so he went back.

“But we’re still scared.”

Air Cote d’Ivoire is the official airline for Afcon 2023, and a statement from the company says that the pilots decided to return due to stress.

It said the problem could have been resolved by ground mechanics, but the flight was grounded due to delays that occurred earlier in the crew’s time.

Saintfiet also suggested that the passengers could have been exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, but Gambia Football Federation (GFF) President Lamin Kaba Bajo said there was no evidence to support the claim.

“I have never heard of it and it has not been clinically, scientifically or medically proven,” Kaba Bajo told the BBC.

“That’s what people see and what they see, but there was nothing like that. I was almost right next to the coach and I didn’t see anyone fall.

“I know that people, when the plane takes off, they sleep.

“Some people were sleeping, sleeping, but we landed safely. There was no incident, we all got off and got on the bus to go back to the terminal.”

Despite having the knowledge to board the canceled flight, The Gambia decided to carry out the training after returning to Banjul on Wednesday night, although some of the team could not participate.

“Some players were unable to practice because of what happened, they had a headache and this is worrying while other players are still surrounded,” said Saintfiet.

“The team asked us to train because we were traveling at night from Saudi Arabia back home on Sunday, and on Monday.

“We were trained to release anxiety.”

Abandoned plane ‘unacceptable’

Image source, Getty Images

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Tom Saintfiet has been the Gambia coach since July 2018

The Scorpions, with their revised plans, were to travel on an Airbus 319 provided by Air Cote d’Ivoire, departing from Banjul to Yamoussoukro at 16:00 GMT on Thursday.

The GFF statement said Gambian President Adama Barrow intervened to get permission to travel to the Ivory Coast capital instead of Abidjan.

Saintfiet said he and team captain Omar Colley refused to get back on the same plane to fly to West Africa.

“We want to fight and die for the country on the football field but not leave,” said the Belgian coach.

Kaba Bajo said the players were not asked to board the same plane, but on the same Bombardier model that was used at the start.

Videos posted on social media by one of Manchester United’s former youth players, Saidy Janko, showed the players sweating profusely as they exited the plane after it returned to Gambia.

Now living in Switzerland, the Young Boys actor called this “unacceptable”.

“As soon as we got into the small plane he had booked to fly us, we saw the intense heat that left us sweating,” he wrote on Instagram.

“We were assured by the staff that the air stays[ing] it would start once in heaven.

“The inhuman heat mixed with the lack of oxygen that occurred left many people with severe headaches and severe dizziness. Also, people fell into a deep sleep within minutes of taking off.”

Janko also praised the pilot saying that the result would have been worse.

“Knowing what could have happened, we would have had this problem a long time ago – on the plane, it’s running out of air,” he said.

In a statement, the GFF said “preliminary research showed that there was a reduction in cabin pressure and air pressure”.

Bonus line for Scorpions

Wednesday’s incident came amid a row between the players and the GFF over bonuses.

The players went on strike in training as they demanded a bonus to qualify for their second Nations Cup after years of failing to do so.

The region’s sports minister, Bakary Badjie, said the players received 5,000 euros each for participating in training matches in Saudi Arabia earlier this month and agreed to waive the qualifying bonus in exchange for diplomatic passports, which have been received.

The Gambia’s captain, Omar Colley, told local media on Wednesday that the GFF has received about 500,000 euros from the government, while Badjie has previously said that the situation has worsened under President Barrow.

These funds should be filtered out to players in the next few days.

In September, The Gambia secured their place at the 2023 Afcon with a 2-2 draw against Congo in a match played in Marrakesh less than 48 hours after the earthquake.

Centre-back Colley said at the time that he would not be able to celebrate their qualification due to the pain he suffered in Morocco.

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