By Robson Sharuko
Harare – Countries scrambling to replace Kenya as hosts of the 2018 African Nations Championships finals have until this weekend to submit their bids to stage the tournament amid speculation that Zambia and South Africa could join the race to bring the show back to southern Africa.
South Africa hosted the 2013 CHAN finals, won by Libya and where Zimbabwe reached the semi-finals only to be eliminated by the North Africans in a penalty shootout, while Zambia this year hosted a very successful CAF Under-20 Championships, which they won.
Madagascar were scheduled to host the Under-17 CAF Championships but had their rights withdrawn in controversial fashion by the previous CAF leadership, under Issa Hayatou, after the then Indian Ocean island’s football boss, Ahmad Ahmad, announced his intention to challenge the Cameroonian strongman for the CAF presidency.
Ahmad, with the backing across the continent, managed to dislodge Hayatou from his post and some of the decisions made by the previous leadership, which were done as a way of gaining the support from those countries for the Cameroonian to extend his time as the leader of African football, are being reviewed.
Kenya are the first to fall by the wayside after the CAF inspectors ruled the East African country did not have the stadiums needed to host the CHAN finals at the beginning of next year.
It’s the second blow for Kenya, in terms of hosting a major African football tournament, after the East African country also lost its rights to host the 1996 Nations Cup finals after inspectors felt its preparations were way behind schedule.
The tournament was shifted to South Africa who then took full advantage of playing the matches in their backyard as they won the Nations Cup.
However, the absence of defending champions Nigeria from that tournament, elbowed by the politics of a diplomatic stand-off between the two countries, took some gloss from Bafana Bafana’s triumph.
And, more than 20 years later, the scenario that played out leading to South Africa replacing Kenya as hosts for a major African tournament could repeat itself this time around when CAF announce the country that will host the next CHAN finals.
South Africa crashed out of the tournament after losing to Zambia in the final qualifier.
“With an overwhelming majority of the members present, it was decided to withdraw the hosting rights of the competition from Kenya in the light of accumulated delays from reports of the various inspection missions conducted in the country, the last of which took place from 11 to 17 September 2017,’’the CAF executive committee announced after a meeting in the Ghanaian capital Accra last weekend.
“The CAF Acting General Secretary has been instructed to immediately open a bidding process for a new host.
The deadline for receipt of applications is seven days from Sunday, 24 September 2017. The identity of the bidding countries will be disclosed within a maximum 15 days of the opening of the bidding process.’’
Ahmad said Kenya had only done 20 percent of the work which was needed to have been done by now and taking a chance on them would have been a massive gamble.
CAF are also reviewing Cameroon’s preparedness to host the 2019 Nations Cup finals.
“A meeting of the Organizing Committee will be convened as soon as possible to elaborate the terms of reference for the call for tenders to be opened for the selection of an audit firm to carry out an inspection mission of infrastructure to host the tournament,’’ CAF said in a statement.
Zambia withdrew from hosting the Under-23 AFCON 2019, which will now be hosted by Egypt, but speculation remains rife the Zambians, who have improved their stadiums in recent years and held a successful African Under-20 Championships, could bid for the 2018 CHAN finals.
Ethiopia are also interested in hosting the tournament while Morocco have also emerged as one of the favourites for the tournament after the country successfully rebuilt its relationship with the CAF leaders which had been strained by a fallout over its withdrawal from hosting the 2015 Nations Cup finals because of fears over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Kenyans maintain they did all they could to try and host the 2018 CHAN finals.
“The federation would like to state that its resolve and commitment to change the game for the better remains stronger and will take positives from the CAF decision, this even as we continue to engage the CAF leadership on the possibility of hosting both upcoming and future CAF competitions,” the statement from the Kenyan Football Federation said.
KFF boss Nick Mwendwa told a media briefing in Nairobi n Monday he will not quit because of the loss of the rights to host the CHAN finals.
“I will not resign because losing the hosting rights cannot be attributed to me or my office,’’ he told reporters.
“We tried to ask CAF to give us more time but the general risks surrounding the General Election is something they couldn’t agree with.’’
The last CHAN finals were held in Rwanda and should the Ethiopians get the nod to host the tournament next year, it means that tourney would have remained in East Africa for two editions running.
This is why many believe the good money could be on Morocco, who have announced another bid to host the World Cup finals after losing the 2010 edition to South Africa, and who need a tournament as a dry run for the bigger event.
Already Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid has received the blessing of Ahmad.
“With respect to the candidature of Morocco, the World Cup in 2026, the member of the CAF executive committee have favourably accepted candidature and have expressed pride in an African country going to host the World Cup in 2026,’’ said Ahmad.
“Morocco’s bid will be an honour for our continent. On behalf of the Executive Committee of CAF, we support Morocco’s candidature to bid for the 2026 World Cup.’’