Any journalist with experience of covering the Africa Cup of Nations knows it is not a particularly easy assignment at the best of times, as the lack of adequate telecommunications, transport and hotel infrastructure in several host nations often makes the three-week tournament a test of resilience and fortitude.
Thank goodness for the pulsating on-field drama that provides us with several tournament memories that make the logistical palaver a pain worth bearing.
But even old Nations Cup hands were sorely tested by the particularly difficult conditions in Equatorial Guinea, which had barely 50 days of preparation to stage the last tournament, after Morocco refused to honour its longstanding commitment to the continent. That the Nations Cup took place was truly the eighth wonder of the world.
Had the Confederation of African Football (CAF) been forced to take up Qatar’s offer to stage the tournament there, which its General Secretary Hicham El-Amrani confessed was a serious option, but for Equatorial Guinea’s intervention, another serious blow would have been dealt to African pride and dignity and reinforced the belief that the continent is incapable of finding home-grown solutions to its problems.
Morocco’s unpardonable volte face, as a result of misplaced fears that travelling fans from other parts of the continent could bring the Ebola Virus into their country, left CAF in a position that is truly rare – one in which even a trenchant critic of their conduct and quality of governance, like myself, had great sympathy for the embarrassingly tight corner the North Africans put them in.
That CAF managed to organise the event – with not a single case of anyone bringing Ebola into Equatorial Guinea, I might add – and avoided the unwanted historical first of having to make the first cancellation of a Nations Cup, since its inception in 1957, or staging it outside the continent, which would have been even worse, deserves commendation.
But what certainly does not deserve kudos is the subsequent decision to award the 2017 Nations Cup tournament to Gabon, which will barely have 21 months to prepare for it, CAF knowing fully well that it currently does not have the required infrastructure to stage the 16 team tournament.
Why Gabon was preferred over Algeria and Ghana, countries with superior infrastructure to the Central African country and would be far better equipped to deal with the challenges of having to stage the tournament in the very short time they’ll have to prepare, is a decision that certainly leaves more questions than answers.
As controversial as the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts were – and still are in the eyes of many – everyone knows the number of votes that each bidder got and the number of votes that enabled each winner to emerge, even though we don’t know how the FIFA executive committee members voted, with the solitary exception of Michel Platini, of course.
It might not surprise readers of this column to know that CAF has never, in its history, made public the result of any executive committee vote for a Nations Cup host. This lack of transparency goes to the root of the need for CAF reform.
The 2017 host has changed three times – South Africa initially had the hosting rights, which they subsequently swapped with Libya, who were supposed to have staged the tournament in 2013, but could not, as they had just emerged from the civil war that led to the ousting of Muammar Gadaffi and were clearly in no shape to stage an international tournament not just for 2013, but for several years to come. That swop was a slap in the face to Nigeria, who had been selected by CAF as the standby host for the 2010, 2012 and 2013 tournaments. But that arrangement was ignored.
Had CAF apparatchiks been alive to their responsibilities, they would not have squandered nearly two years twiddling their thumbs before taking a decision to find another 2017 host, which has put Gabon in a particularly tight corner. Without looking at a crystal ball, I foresee the Gabonese having a very tough time staging the tournament successfully.
It is imperative that Nations Cup hosts have a minimum of four years – I would prefer a five year period – between the award of hosting rights and when tournaments are staged.
If CAF’s mandarins are determined to continue awarding hosting rights to countries that lack the infrastructure, it’s just simple common sense to give them more time to prepare properly – with CAF ensuring that they do a much better job of monitoring their preparations and ensure they live up to their hosting commitments.
That is the least that should be expected for a tournament that is the showpiece event of the African game.
Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.