The FIFA Under 20 World Cup starts tomorrow in Canada, but it’ll be missing a contingent of Gambian supporters who had planned to travel and watch their team take part for the first time. According to allAfrica.com, 235 out of 250 applications for visas by fans from Gambia hoping to follow their team in Canada for the U-20 World Cup were denied.
Gambia’s leader, Dr Alhaji Yahya Jammeh, had apparently intended to airlift the 250 fans to Canada. Bai Cham, President of the Scorpions Fans Club, said that:
We receive the news with shock and grieve but we have to put it behind us and continue to support the team. We know it was the good intention of the President to airlift the fans to Canada just as he did on other occasions. But unfortunately it never materialised and we are grateful for his unprecedented support towards the fans club. We are still behind the President. We will not only stand by him but we will stand with him.
The reason the visas were denied, according to Basiru Gassama – a supporter of the team, interviewed in Gambia’s Daily Observer – was a fear the supporters would abscond once in Canada. Perhaps confusing his continents, Gassama said that
If it is because we are Africans, that doesn’t mean that we will stay there. Not every body wants to stay or live in Europe. For me, I love Africa more than Europe. There is no place like home. Therefore, since the fans want to attend the tournament and support their team, the Canadian authorities should give them visas without any condition. Anyone who violates the immigration laws of the state should be either dealt with accordingly or deported
Jammeh has apparently sponsored supporter travel overseas before, including a trip to Peru in 2005, with no record of anyone absconding. The Gambian leader has apparently already spent over $70,000 on accommodation and visa application costs for the trip to Canada.
Whilst the Canadian decision is a shame for any genuine supporters denied the chance to follow their team, one shouldn’t feel too sorry for Jammeh. His support of football may be wholehearted, but he’s been a controversial figure since taking over Gambia in a military coup thirteen years ago. Earlier this year, for example, he claimed he could cure asthma within five minutes and HIV/AIDS within a day through herbal medicine.