Africa: CHAN Tournament Key Litmus Test for African Football in Covid-19 Times

(file photo).
17 January 2021

The 2020 African Nations Championships (Chan), the biggest football tournament in Africa since the outbreak of Covid-19, started Saturday in Cameroon.

Although a successful Chan tournament will be testament to Africa's readiness to host major sporting events in light of Covid-19 pandemic, Kenya's only claim to such a verdict can only be due to the country's geographical location in Africa and not through any positive contribution.

Folks, we are at the bottom of the pile. We are neither good enough to play in the tournament, nor do we have the capacity to host it given a chance. In social terms, we are the ill-mannered uncle that everyone in the family of African football is forced to put up with. Like the good spectators that we are, let's just sit back and watch as Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania join other 13 teams in the battle for glory in Africa's second-tier national team tournament.

Although our sports administrators have manufactured scandals at a rate that is too fast to keep up with, one does not require the memory of an elephant to remember that Kenya squandered a chance to host the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations which eventually went to South Africa. More recently, we won the rights to host 2018 CHAN, then retreated into a deep slumber when we should have been putting in place the requisite infrastructure only to wake up at the last minute to start patching up Mombasa County Stadium, Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos, Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret and Kinoru Stadium in Meru when it was already too late.

Morocco, which had been waiting on the wings, was handed the hosting rights of the tournament which they went on to win. Kenya prides itself in being an economic powerhouse in East Africa but could not even stage Africa's second-tier national team football tournament, something Rwanda, with an economy nine times smaller, successfully did in 2016. Story for another day.

Well, for the next 23 days, Cameroon will host Africa's biggest football tournament since the outbreak of Covid-19. The delayed 2020 CHAN kicked off on Saturday in Cameroon, with home team playing Zimbabwe in the opening match of Group A in the capital Yaounde.

Matches in the tournament, which is meant for players plying their trade in their local leagues, will be staged in four stadiums in three Cameroonian cities of Yaounde, Douala and Limbe. Football fans across Africa see the biennial championship as a major test for Africa's readiness to host a major sporting championship, given that fans will be allowed in group stage matches up to a quarter of the capacity of the stadiums.

If fans comply with strict Covid-19 measures, this figure could go up in the semi-final and final matches. Among the Covid-19 measures put in place for the tournament is screening of players, delegates and coaches as soon as they arrive at the airport, having one player per room in hotels rather than two, testing of players 48 hours before matches and provision of 10 players in the waiting list to replace anyone in the 23-man squads who tests positive for Covid-19.

Separatist groups

Although Cameroon has had longer time to prepare for the tournament which was postponed from April last year to January 16 - February 7 due to coronavirus pandemic, organisers are facing major challenges. Ironically, the biggest threat is not even related to Covid-19. It has to do with the restive Anglophone region of the country.

Separatist groups in Anglophone Cameroon (south-west region of the country) who have felt short-changed economically for long, have also been angered by the fact that the region does not have a player in Cameroon's 23-man squad. They have threatened to disrupt the tournament and have warned organisers not to stage any matches in their territory.

Organisers have been criticized for planning to stage matches in the restive south-west region of Cameroon, particularly at Omnisport Stadium in Limbe which will host Group D matches involving Zambia, Tanzania, Guinea and Namibia.

On Thursday, explosions linked to a local separatist group were witnessed outside the stadium. "Separatists have written to CAF saying the tournament is banned in Anglophone Cameroon and have announced lockdown in the region to restrict movement of people," Cameroonian journalist Ndi Eugene Ndi told me on phone from Yaounde on Saturday.

For Cameroon, the delayed 2020 CHAN tournament is also a dress rehearsal for 2022 Africa Cup of Nations tournament which the country will host after falling behind the schedule to host 2019 Afcon.

If Cameroon overcomes these obstacles and hosts a successful championship, it will be testament to Africa's ability to host sports championships in these Covid-19 times.

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