Monday, January 24

Drama, delays and internal unrest: why hosting Afcon is so important for Cameroon

One year later than expected, due to Covid-19, the 2021 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) has started successfully in Cameroon. The opening match of the 33rd edition of Afcon took place in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. In the spectacular opener, Cameroon came from behind to beat Burkina Faso after captain Vincent Aboubakar scored two penalty kicks.

For Cameroon, there is increasing pressure to host a successful tournament both on and off the pitch.

It has been 50 years since the country hosted the highest continental soccer competition. Since Afcon is held every two years, and since Cameroon young population – few locals will have first-hand memories of the 1972 tournament.

There is a palpable sense of pride that Cameroon is once again hosting the Nations Cup. It is a very different competition than the 1972 event. The biggest difference is the overall size. It has grown from an eight-team tournament with just six players at clubs outside of Africa to a 24-team tournament with 404 players at European clubs and others in the US, China, South Korea, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. .

As the group stage begins, staging a successful tournament is important on many levels. On the pitch, those from Cameroon samuel eto’o has recently started his presidency of the national football federation and expectations are high for the hosts to perform well in native land. Economically, all companies in Cameroon have their sights set on a revival and a boost in income. And, off the field, it’s vitally important from a political perspective, given the ongoing domestic unrest, security concerns and lack of national unity.

bumpy road

Cameroon was supposed to host the tournament in 2019. But in November 2018, the organizers stripped the country of their lodging rights, citing a lack of confidence in the preparation of the Central African nation based on infrastructure. The tournament was awarded to Egypt with Cameroon with accommodation rights for 2021.

There have been more delays since then. First, the African Football Confederation advanced the tournament to January 2021 to avoid Rainy season in Cameroon. The tournament was then pushed back to 2022 due to the Covid pandemic.

Even in December 2021 there were rumors that the country would not be accommodation the tournament. The president of the African Football Confederation arrived in Yaoundé to discuss concerns about the organization, incomplete construction work and the threat of coronavirus outbreaks among players and staff.

Concerns also persist about ongoing internal unrest in the country, a socio-political dispute dating back to the end of the French and British colonial legacy and the formation of Cameroon as a independent state.

The well-documented divide relates to Anglophone Cameroonians, who make up 20% of the population, who feel marginalized and exploited by the Francophone-dominated state and population. A number of complaints recently turned in political demands, strikes and riots. The government maintains that it has a fair governance structure, but English-speaking Cameroonians still feel oppressed.

Government powers and Anglophone separatists have engaged in increasingly brutal violence amid retaliation to lay down their arms and return to communal life. In addition, government authorities have arrested opposition activists who are seeking Cameroon’s full separation with a new state called “Ambazonia”. This is a great challenge for national unity and security.

The separatist movement signaled its intention to interrupt the tournament. A few days before kick-off, separatist fighters detonated an improvised explosive device in Limbe, the coastal city that will host Afcon matches. Six were injured and property destroyed.

uniting the nation

football is the “King sport” in Cameroon But it has become more than a sport, and many Cameroonians argue that football is politics. Previous research studies show that football plays a very prominent role in building nationalism and unity in Cameroon. It is therefore not surprising that the government has used football as bait to gain some kind of stability when its power has been at stake.

A stadium packed with brightly colored fans, dressed and made up in red, yellow and green, cheer on Cameroon, blowing vuvuzelas and holding flags.
Cameroon fans.
KEPSEU/Xinhua via Getty Images

Even president Paul Biya said before the soccer mega-event that hosting the tournament should help improve unity and solidarity:

We want (Afcon) to be a great moment of brotherhood. Let us offer our guests the rich cultural diversity that has earned our country the nickname “Africa in miniature”.

What to expect in the field

So, after all the delays, drama, and ongoing domestic unrest, we’re finally here, and the hosts are eager to focus on the opportunities that lie ahead.

On the pitch, Cameroon will continue to try to impress. Despite having won the tournament five times, it is Egypt that leads the way, with “The Pharaohs” lifting the trophy a record seven times. Cameroon have less than 3% chance of winning if you believe the betting market odds and the teams standings on the analyst website. And no host has won the competition since Egypt in 2006. However, Cameroon come into the competition in fine form after recently securing a place in the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Reigning champions Algeria look strong favorites to win again, unbeaten in all matches since 2018 and in a favorable group on paper. Captained by Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, they will be full of confidence after winning last month. FIFA Arab Cup in Doha.

Afcon 2019 runners-up Senegal will be looking to improve this year and enter the competition with the highest ranking from 20 in the world. The team got off to the best possible start with Liverpool’s Sadio Mané scoring a dramatic last minute penalty in his first match against Zimbabwe.

But the constant threat of Covid-19 could play an unwanted role within the competition and there have already been reported cases in various squads: Cameroon, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Gabon, Tunisia, Malawi, Cape Verde Islands and Ivory Coast. new guidelines outlined this week, that teams that have a Covid-19 outbreak must field 11 players, even if they don’t have a fit goalkeeper, could make this competition one not to be forgotten.

And a standout person for Afcon 2021 will be the referee. Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda One of the 63 referees, she will be the first woman to referee at the championships.

Sheffield Hallam University Professor Becky Ashworth provided additional research and written contributions for this article.The conversation

Jo Clarke, Full Professor of Sports Business Management, Sheffield Hallam University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.

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