Out with the old and in with the new, yet we see no changes. For 29 years Issa Hayatou was President of CAF, some generations didn’t know another name and to be fair on the Cameroonian, the confederation experienced steady growth.
While there were times when one wondered why CAF didn’t do some things differently, it is usually blamed on the cabal that had been formed at the headquarters and the old, indifferent minds who saw change and innovation as a threat and will almost immediately do everything to stop it once one was being mussed.
In the aftermath of Cameroon’s loss of the 2019 AFCON hosting rights, with seven months to a first-ever 24-team AFCON, it begs the question: How is it that CAF didn’t see the signs long before now?
Cameroon hosted the Women’s version of the event two years ago before conjuring a surprise win in Gabon in 2017, setting the tone for a historical defence of their title on home soil. Issa Hayatou was still in charge at the time, and everything made sense. Fast-forward a few months, CAF had elected new leaders who were desperate to make an immediate impression and one of the very first decisions made after an extraordinary congress in Rabat, Morocco was to expand AFCON.
CAF has had a 16-team tournament since 1996, now it will be a 24-team tournament; mirroring UEFA, whose expansion of the European Champions had earned the body an improved $1.3 billion. The motive was clear, CAF was seeking newer ways of enriching the federations. CAF equally changed the date of the tournament from January/February to June/July in a bid to make the event stand alone and strengthen their commercial viability.
Whilst these developments are welcome, the timing and the insistence of CAF, particularly to begin as soon as 2019 immediately put existing plans and calendar into jeopardy.
Cameroon had won the rights to host a 16-team championship, however, CAF now expects Cameroon to have an infrastructure in place to host 8 more teams, and they expect this sorted out in 18 months. It is the formulae for catastrophe, there was no way Cameroon will meet this, yet CAF did nothing but hope that Cameroon will.
It is deja vu all over again. In 2014, Morocco pulled out because of hosting the 2015 Championship due to the Ebola outbreak, a decision which had CAF on its knees seeking new hosts with barely four months to the tournament.
CAF will never be stranded, Morocco and South Africa are likely options to host the tournament next summer. And CAF might even prefer South Africa due to the aforementioned events of 2014, but this was an avoidable mess and the new leadership of CAF should be really embarrassed with just how poorly they have done.