By Andrew Warshaw
December 3 – After insisting there was no plan B and promising only last month that his organisation had “never thought about” an alternative venue, African football chief Ahmad Ahmad has bowed to growing pressure and stripped Cameroon of hosting rights for next year’s African Cup of Nations.
The Confederation of African Football took the decision at a 10-hour meeting of its executive meeting last Friday, citing delays in the progress of Cameroon’s preparation for the tournament to be held in June and July, the first AFCON to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.
In a statement, CAF said that “after numerous discussions and following inspections over the past 18 months,” it was clear that “a number of compliance conditions have not been met” and it did not want to expose the Africa Cup of Nations to “any issues that could impact on the success of the most prestigious African competition”.
CAF inspectors recently travelled to the country, which last hosted the tournament in 1972, to check security, infrastructure, stadiums and accommodation.
“There is a gap between what is necessary to organise a CAN and the reality on the ground,” CAF added.
Ahmad said a CAF task force would now work to “determine a new organising country by the end of the year”.
“I know that there are countries which are interested, rest assured, candidate countries will come forward,” he said. “We know there won’t be many but we will leave the task force to evaluate them and to set up visits in order to select the organisers … by the end of the year.”
Ahmad said last year that Cameroon “still needed to convince CAF of its capabilities yet recently played down increasing speculation of a hosting switch by saying no pressure had been placed on Cameroon and that the decision was entirely theirs. And back in August the chairman of CAF’s Nations Cup organising committee, Amaju Pinnick, said “nobody is going to take it away from Cameroon”.
Then last week, following the latest in a number of inspection visits, Cameroon’s hosting hopes were plunged back in the balance after the north African grouping of football nations called for the tournament to be switched to Morocco.
But that may not be the case. As the Continent eagerly awaits a ruling on which country steps in, South Africa said it had already been requested to consider hosting at short notice.
“The Confederation of African Football has asked the Association to seriously consider hosting AFCON 2019. SAFA will however, meet the Government first before making a decision,” wrote the national team on its verified Twitter account which was then re-tweeted by the South African Football Association.
South Africa also took over the 2013 tournament after original hosts Libya pulled out two years earlier because of the military conflict then raging in the country.
South African Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa told reporters after Nigeria’s 4-3 victory over South Africa in the women’s AFCON final, on Saturday that “we are indeed interested” in replacing Cameroon.
“We have all the infrastructure and stadiums to host this kind of event like we did in 2010 with the FIFA World Cup,” she said.
In Cameroon, not surprisingly, the authorities reacted furiously CAF’s ruling, referring to it as a ‘flagrant injustice’.
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