YAOUNDE – Cameroon's government is looking to defuse a growing controversy after national team captain Samuel Eto'o was banned for 15 matches for taking part in a players' strike.
The ban was handed down Friday by Fecafoot, the country's football federation, after Eto'o took part in a boycott of a friendly with Algeria on Nov. 15 in protest at unpaid bonuses. However, the severity of the punishment has triggered criticism from the players' union and former great Roger Milla.
''The government is closely following the developments and is looking (at) possibilities of bringing together the various parties involved, in an effort to resolve the problem and restore harmony,'' Sports Minister Adoum Garoua said Tuesday in a statement.
Fecafoot also banned vice captain Enoh Eyong for two matches and gave Benoit Assou-Ekotto a fine of $1,986 after the strike forced organizers to cancel the match in Algeria.
''To punish such a high class player, with international repute, there's need for profound reflection,'' player union president Davis Mayebi said. ''This sanction is instead bringing down the image of Cameroon and even that of Eto'o. We're saddened with it and we want it revisited, re-examined and let the right decision be made.''
For Milla, the Cameroon striker who lit up the 1990 World Cup, such a lengthy ban could prompt Eto'o to retire from international football.
''Our football is in disaster. It is in total failure,'' Milla told The Associated Press. ''Punishing Samuel, who happens to be our goal getter and captain of our national team, with up to 15 games absence is indirectly a way to send him on forced retirement.''
Cameroon's players refused to travel to Algeria after completing a friendly tournament in Morocco.