All the glitz and glamour…but
A host of globally-recognised stars, football stadia that hosted the FIFA Soccer World Cup and a budget that African countries rarely put for sport should make AFCON 2013 a huge tournament.
But for all the stars and its captivating sights and powerful sounds, the Nations Cup remains a very poor football tournament.
South Africa has opened its arms again, for the second time in 17 years, to host the best football teams on the continent hoping that, just like in ’96, Bafana Bafana will be crowned kings at the end of the festival.
Zambia will be hoping to make history, by becoming the first Southern African country to retain the trophy after they completed a fairy-tale success story in Libreville, Gabon, last February.
The emotional sub-plot that followed Chipolopolo’s march to greatness in the very city where the doomed aircraft carrying a generation of their finest footballers took off for the last time 20 years ago before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean moments later, killing everyone on board, has long faded.
Nigeria boycotted the Nations Cup the last time it was held in South Africa because of a diplomatic row between Tshwane and Abuja and – having won the tournament in Tunisia in ’94 – the absence of the Super Eagles left a huge hole in the tourney.
But the Super Eagles are back, searching for their first Nations Cup title in 19 years and coach Steve Keshi will be hoping it can be done in a country where they are guaranteed a huge support base because of the big Nigerian community resident in South Africa.
The other big boys – record Nations Cup winners’ Egypt, fading giants Cameroon and 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal – will be missing from the festival and a number of new boys have come to the fore.
Cape Verde, with a population of just 450 000 people living on small islands off the West African coast, will play at their first Nations Cup finals after they defied the odds to eliminate the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
Ethiopia return to the Nations Cup after a 31-year absence, and memories of their triumph at the ’62 edition of the tournament are a distant memory.
“Most of them were not there when Ethiopia was qualifying for Africa Cup of Nations the last 31 years back,” coach, Sewnet Bishaw, told journalists.
“We have psychology class every two days, we teach them. And to erase this pressure we have arranged games to practice.”
But while the presence of a number of Europe-based stars will still give the tournament its box office appeal, and interest in tickets has been rising after a slow start, there is concern about the real value of the tournament.
With most of Africa’s best players now based in Europe and playing with and against the cream of European stars, it’s inevitable that what happens at the Euro Championships should have an effect on them.
When Fernando Torres returned to Chelsea from Euro 2012, having helped Spain win the tournament, he must have bragged about that triumph to his teammates, who include Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.
The Super Eagles’ duo must have learnt that Spain pocketed a cool US$33 million from winning Euro 2012.
Put that into context with the Nations Cup and should Nigeria win the tournament in South Africa, they will take home just US$1.5m. The entire Nations Cup prize money is about US$2m.
The prize money at Euro 2012 was about US$280m, up from US$257.6m at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Every team at the tournament was guaranteed about US$11.6m for just reaching Euro 2012, wile there was US$1.45m for just a win in the group stage.
It means the team that wins the 2012 Nations Cup finals will get just about the same prize money that a team at Euro 2012 took home for winning a group game.
Former Ghana captain Sammy Kuffour, who won the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich of Germany, has questioned the value of the Nations Cup.
“If you compare the US$100 million prize money for the winner of the Champions League then the US$2 million is peanuts,” said Kuffour. “So the organisers must do something about it.”
The former Ghana international is now working for SuperSport as a football expert and will feature prominently on television at AFCON 2013. The Nations Cup also pales when compared to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which features North American countries, and whose booty was around US$17m in prize money in 2009. But for all its lack of comparative financial muscle, the Nations Cup continues to be a big draw card for players and fans, and the organisers reported this week that interest was soaring.
“The 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations South Africa 2013 is only six days away and public interest has soared leading to a total sell-out of Category 1 and Category 2 tickets for the Opening Games on 19 January 2013 which kick off at the National Stadium in Johannesburg,” CAF said on its official website.
“A Group A double-header clash led by the host nation, South Africa and tournament debutants, Cape Verde Islands, followed by Angola and Morocco will set the mood of the tournament.
“The Categories 1 and 2 tickets represent the high end of tickets available to fans. To date 359 543 tickets have been sold or allocated, which represents about 42 percent of the total capacity of the stadia.
“CAF and the local organising committee (LOC) remain optimistic that the numbers will continue to increase, with a specific focus made on matches of Group B in Port-Elizabeth and of Group D in Rustenburg, both having the lowest figures of tickets sold so far.
“The Local Organising Committee (LOC) is still hoping to reach the ticket sales target of 500 000 by the start of the tournament in Johannesburg even if this will not be easy.
“But a relief to most fans is that it is now possible to buy and receive tickets immediately. Fans are spoilt for choice of the tickets they can purchase. “
AFCON 2013 Local Organising Committee chief executive, Mvuzo Mbebe, said they were expecting to fill the stadia.
“We are happy with this development because it shows a marked change in South African spectator behavior where usually the cheapest category tickets are sold out first,” Mbebe said in comments carried on the CAF website.
“This seems to suggest that with the week on its final stretch before the start of the biggest sporting showpiece in the continent Category 3 tickets will sell even faster than they have today as soon as we announce a comprehensive fan transport solution to and from the stadiums.”