The Gambia midfielder Sulayman Marreh says a ban on his country’s national stadium hosting international games ‘is a big disgrace’.
The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has said that the Independence Stadium in Bakau does not meet its standards to host international matches.
It means the Scorpions, who reached the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, will have to play the home leg of their preliminary qualifier for the 2023 Nations Cup finals against Chad on 29 March in Morocco.
“It’s a huge disappointment not to be able to play at home after our historic (Nations Cup) qualification – and now again against Chad,” Marreh, 26, told BBC Sport Africa.
“I think the people responsible should look at themselves because this is a big disgrace for Gambian football.
“I hope they can fix it as soon as possible because the Gambian people don’t deserve this.”
The side last played at the Independence Stadium in March 2021 when they beat Angola 1-0 to qualify for their first ever Nations Cup finals.
“We were looking forward to play in front of our fans after a long time without playing at home,” The Gambia captain Omar Colley told BBC Sport Africa.
“I know they’ve also been waiting for this moment but none of us are in control of this situation. It’s a shame that we have to play away especially coming back from a great tournament.
“Hopefully they’ll fix the stadium as soon as possible for us to reunite with our fans and start playing at home.”
Supporters had been looking forward to finally reuniting with their heroes having missed the opportunity when the team’s return from the Nations Cup in Cameroon was disrupted with 11 players returning to their clubs.
“It would’ve been fantastic to play after our Afcon with the support of our fans,” coach Tom Saintfiet said.
“Especially knowing that our Gambian fans are looking forward to seeing their heroes, their players and to celebrate them and support them and it’s a very sad situation.
“Playing in Cameroon against Chad and playing in Morocco against Chad is naturally a very strange situation.”
Warned in 2019
The Independence Stadium is the country’s only international stadium and the facility, which was built in 1983, has never undergone any major maintenance.
The general manager of the venue, Ebou Faye, says they knew a ban from Caf had been a possibility since 2019.
“It was disappointing but we knew that it was coming,” Faye told BBC Sport Africa.
“Around 2019 when Caf came up with their stadium must-have requirements, we shared it with the government. The government did give us some money to improve some areas, but not everything was done.
“We knew that at some point if we didn’t do what was necessary to improve the standard of the stadium to the level of Caf’s requirements it would be banned.”
The Ministry of Youth and Sports along with the Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure have set up a technical committee to look at the facility, with the hope of upgrading it to meet the required standards.
“They have done their survey of what needs to be done. Even if it’s going to be done in phases it will be done,” Faye added.
“Also we have a private investor who’s also looking at how to work with government to improve the standard.
“The target is to make sure that in our (Afcon) qualifiers in June we play in The Gambia, so work has to start very soon.”
Africa Cup of Nations 2023 preliminary play-off fixtures
- Sao Tome and Principe v Mauritius
- Djibouti v South Sudan
- Seychelles v Lesotho
- Somalia v Eswatini
- Chad v The Gambia
Ties to be played on 21 and 29 March.
Writting by Momodou BahFootball Writer, The Gambia