AFCON: Window of hope opens for marginalised Southern Africa
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – A window of hope for southern Africa to host the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals within the next six years, appears to be slowly opening up.
This comes as the Confederation of African Football announcing that it is reviewing the process that led to the awarding of hosting rights of the rights for the next three tournaments.
Southern African countries, with the exception of South Africa, have been waiting for an eternity to get an opportunity to host the continent’s biggest football festival, which is held every two years.
South Africa hosted the tournament in 1996 and 2013.
Zimbabwe was set to host the tournament in 2000 but the country’s rights were withdrawn by the CAF leadership. Reasons given at the time was that the country’s preparations for the event were behind schedule. The tournament was then moved to Nigeria and Ghana.
Interestingly, it has since emerged that Zimbabwe was a victim of the toxic politics that followed the 1998 FIFA presidential elections in Paris France. The elections were charecterised by a rebellion against the CAF leaders’ preferred candidate to run world football, which in tern triggered a backlash in African football.
The Zimbabwean football leaders, just like the majority of their Southern African counterparts, decided to vote for Sepp Blatter, rather than Swede Lennart Johansson, who had the backing of the CAF leadership, with the Swiss strongman emerging triumphant in that poll.
The CAF bosses, then under the leadership of Issa Hayatou, reacted angrily to the rebellion by the southern African leaders. As part of a cocktail of measures to punish them, the CAF leaders decided to withdraw the rights for hosting the 2000 Nations Cup finals from Zimbabwe.
Hayatou and his fection would use that same formula, 17 years later, when they punished Madagascar, for fielding a candidate to challenge the Cameroonian strongman in the battle for the CAF presidency last year. As punishment CAF decided to withdraw Madagascar’s rights to host the 2017 CAF Under-17 Championships.The rights were given to the more ‘obidient’ Gabon.
Hayatou, who lost the battle to remain CAF president to Madagascar football chief Ahmad Ahmad, had promised Zambia standby status and could be handed hosting rights of any of the next three AFCON finals should one of the countries, earmarked to stage the tournament, come short. This happened after Zambia successfully hosted the 2017 CAF Under-20 Championships.
Cameroon are scheduled to host the 2019 AFCON finals, Cote d’Ivoire were handed the rights to host the 2021 tournament while Guinea were given the rights to host the 2023 Nations Cup finals.
“Zambia met all our requirements. Let them start procedure once the bid is open, but if any country fails, we won’t even request for a bid, we shall directly give Zambia (the chance) to host,” Hayatou told the media after meeting Zambian President Edgar Lungu.
Hayatou’s critics dismissed him back then as someone who was trying to woo the Zambians to vote for him in the battle for the CAF presidency. Hayatou was allegedly trying to split the COSAFA bloc, which was pushing for Ahmad.
A keen President Lungu was quoted saying Zamibia never had the chance to host a senior football tournament and wanted his country to get a chance.
The Zambians were scheduled to host the 1988 AFCON finals but pulled out at the last minute with the tournament eventually being hosted by Morocco.
The Southern African country was also part of the countries who’s bid to host one of the next three AFCON finals, promising the continent a spectacular tournament but had their bid thrown out.
It now appears that Zamibia, just like other southern African countries, could have a chance to host the Nations Cup finals within the next six years.
The vice-president of the CAF Cup of Nations committee, Philip Chiyangwa, who doubles as the COSAFA president, recently revealed that the process to give the next three tournaments to Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea would be reviewed.
Chiyangwa was in Zambia last week where he met the country’s football leadership and reiterated that COSAFA remained unhappy that the process to select the next three AFCON hosts appeared to only favour west Africa.
“I am currently reviewing what happened in the past, how the next three AFCON finals were parceled out to just one region without taking into consideration the interests of other regions who have not had the opportunity to host this prestigious event, like the countries in Southern and Eastern Africa,” Chiyangwa said, adding that CAF has to been seen to be fair to all parts of the continent.