The Gambia national team, or what was left of it, arrived back home midnight yesterday, after being stranded in Cameroon over the last few days waiting to be airlifted home.
The delay caused frustration and anger among supporters at home and in Cameroon as well as the players, some of whom took to social media to vent their anger.
A number of players have already left for their clubs while the remainder arrived back at midnight alongside officials and supporters hampering plans for a huge welcoming parade planned by the Gambia Football Federation and National Coordinating Committee.
At the height of the confusion yesterday, a handful of supporters went to the GFF office to protest. They waived placards reading: “We want our boys back!”
Meanwhile the NCC issued a statement from Cameroon last night to explain the reasons for the delay. It reads:
“The National Coordinating Committee wishes to inform the general public that it had in utmost good faith entered into an agreement with two separate travel agents, AEROWOLD/PFS and JET SPORT EVENTS to transport The Gambia national team and fans to Cameroon for the Afcon 2021. These agreements were signed after the completion of a bidding process where the two aforementioned companies turned out to be the most responsive bidders.
One of them, AEROWOLRD/ PFS was contracted to fly the players from Qatar to Banjul and then Douala on a one-way flight with the understanding that the team may either fly back directly to Europe or back to Banjul depending on their progress in the tournament, while the other travel agent JET SPORTS EVENT was contracted to transport the fans on a separate date.
In our agreement with JET SPORTS EVENTS, it was clearly spelt that the delegation’s return date to Banjul was subjective to the team’s progress in the tournament but a 48-hour notice was required to have the aircraft ready to fly the delegation back home.
Following the team’s exit in the quarter-finals on Saturday the 29th January, the Logistics Committee immediately informed JET SPORTS EVENTS that the team intends to leave Douala on Monday the 31st January 2022, as per the agreement to ensure that all our players arrive in Banjul on time to travel to their clubs.
We were informed by the company that an aircraft will be available on Monday the 31st January at 11.00 am or mid-day, which information was shared with the delegation in Cameroon. The whole day on Sunday the 30th January, the Logistics Committee continued to persistently request for the flight details of the aircraft to depart Douala for Banjul from the company but were told that it was a Sunday and they were waiting on securing a flyover permit from Ghana having secured permits from The Gambia and Cameroon.
After numerous follow-ups and having sensed that the company may not have readily brokered a flight to transport the delegation, the NCC took note of the non-elapse of the 48hour period for the company to provide us with the flight details but also summoned an emergency NCC meeting under the directives Minister of Youth and Sports for members in Limbe to discuss the matter and agree on a way forward.
During the said meeting, it was brought to our attention that the company had secured a much smaller flight that was unable to carry the delegation to Banjul with a proposal to leave some passengers and most of the luggages in Limbe for two extra days, or wait an extra day which is Tuesday the 1st February 2022 to have a bigger aircraft to transport all the delegation and luggage. It was unanimously agreed at the said meeting that it was best to wait for an extra day to have a bigger aircraft to transport everyone back to Banjul. And secondly, the time of departure for the small flight that was being proposed was very late because it means arriving around midnight or 1.00am in Banjul which will mean a cancellation of the planned welcoming ceremony of the players.
Despite the flight company confirming to us that the team will depart Limbe for Douala at 09.30 am for the airport to board our plane, we have continued to receive inconsistent messages from them. This caused the NCC to secure the services of a Cameroonian legal practitioner, former Justice Emmanuel Nkea who has been visiting the fans on a daily basis to take the issue up and take all legal steps to ensure the flight company fulfills its contractual obligation and pay for damages incurred. Justice Nkea had even gone to the point of engaging the governor of the region who has all since gotten involved in the saga.
The NCC wishes to inform the public that, it has no interest whatsoever to keep our gallant Scorpions or any single supporter here for an extra minute, much more a day contrary to messages being circulated on social media. The legal practitioner has been furnished with all the relevant documents and information to take all the necessary steps for compensation while we are doing everything humanly possible to fly everyone out of Cameroon this evening. The failure of the flight company to fulfill its contractual obligations gives us every right to seek redress in court and we have immediately embarked upon that, the outcome of which will be shared with the general public.
We crave the indulgence and understanding of the general public most especially our entire national team and fans in Limbe to exercise patience as a flight has been secured to fly us all out of here today Tuesday 1st February 2022 at 8.20pm. We apologise for any inconvenience caused by circumstances out of our control.