By Michael Ayotunde
Despite all odds, the 33rd edition of the Africa Continental showpiece, the Africa Nation’s cup, finally kicked off. The biennial international men’s football championship of Africa is organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and it’s the most coveted football tournament in the Continent.
The tournament was originally scheduled to hold in June and July 2021. However, CAF announced that owing to unfavourable conditions, the tournament had been rescheduled to be played between 9 January and 6 February 2021.
On 30 June 2020 again, CAF moved the tournament’s dates for the second time to January 2022 following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the Continent.
The European Club Association (ECA), which consist the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, PSG and Bayern Munich among its 234 members, wrote to FIFA expressing concerns about the Africa Cup of Nations in January and threatening not to release players.
Of course, a handful of the clubs made good their threats not to release players – for the tournament. Affected countries are no doubt trying to cope with such developments – since the tournament has taken off finally.
The importance of AFCON is in the mould of FIFA’s World Cup showpiece and other top tournaments out there. Most football stars from the Africa Continent (and even beyond) who ply their trade in Europe have also likened the tournament to be at par with what’s obtainable elsewhere.
It is noteworthy to see that despite enormous pressure from European clubs and world football governing body, FIFA, CAF stood its ground to go ahead with the 2022 African Cup of Nations as scheduled.
CAF President, Patrice Motsepe while speaking, had commended the hosts for their efforts in ensuring that the necessary facilities are in place for a secure and entertaining African Nations Cup, noting that the hosts have shown that Africans can host big international competitions despite challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the years, the tournament has been a melting pot where raw talents in the round leather game are mined.
It has also helped in ensuring meaningful growth and sustainable development across the continent. The benefits that come with cities getting to host such tournaments as AFCON are enormous.
In the first place, such cities get infrastructural boosts with revamping of old social amenities as many tourists are expected to visit. The country’s economy also benefits from the influx of people coming to patronize the tournaments, ranging from hospitality, catering and entertainment industries among others.
In the short run, the economic boost which is typically associated with big events is a surge in visitors, athletes and media who spend and inject money into the local economy. Conversely, the host benefits significantly with legacy projects that come with it.
There is no gainsaying the fact that hosting a sporting event of this magnitude comes at a cost. Of course, there are years of planning and investment (huge investment) to ensure that the necessary infrastructural work is completed. This kind of financial commitment is enormous and or daunting for any nation.
However, countries opt to host the tournament because they believe that there are inherent economic and social values to derive from it.
Starting from the opening ceremony and the many games played so far, commentators have lauded the showpiece, describing it as largely successful – this is in spite of reservations against it from some quarters. Then, there’s the latest controversy involving the referee of the match between Tunisia and Mali who ended the match before 90 minutes. This, no doubt, is a needless low-side that requires organisers attention – without further delay.
Interestingly too, our darling Super Eagles kicked off their participation in the tournament on a sound footing. Though there were lapses, their exploit against the seven-time Champions, Egypt, is indicative of good things to come. One only hope they keep the momentum going forward.
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