Eritrea has withdrawn its men’s football team from the 2026 World Cup qualifying rounds, reportedly over fears that players may seek political asylum during overseas trips.
Sources close to the team said the decision came just days before a scheduled match against Morocco.
The abrupt cancellation of Eritrea’s participation, announced in a joint statement by Fifa and the Confederation of African Football, left many unanswered questions. The Eritrean National Football Federation (ENFF) has not yet issued an official explanation.
It is understood that attempts by the ENFF to proceed with the games were ultimately overruled by Zemede Tekle, Eritrea’s commissioner for sports and culture, The Guardian reported.
Insiders point to the oppressive regime of President Isaias Afwerki, infamous for imposing lifetime military service on many citizens, as the primary reason for the withdrawal.
The fear is that players would use the international fixtures as an opportunity to escape and seek asylum from the regime’s harsh policies.
This decision has been a major blow to the players, who have been preparing for these qualifiers for three months.
Since 2009, over 60 players have reportedly sought asylum whilst on international duty, with the most recent incident involving five female players in Uganda in November 2021.
Eritrea’s football scene has been further weakened by the lack of suitable stadiums to host international matches and a decreasing Fifa ranking due to inactivity.
Compiled by staff writer