The Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is sure to increase countries to feature in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals from 16 to 24 teams after a symposium Wednesday in Rabat, Morocco recommended for the expansion of the biennial continental football fiesta.
Also, the AFCON final, previously held in January/February, is also to be moved to June and July to end constant Club-Country skirmishes over African players in European leagues. The CAF Exco is meeting this afternoon in Morocco to decide on the proposals before it.
Both recommendations were made after a workshop on the future of the tournament that included much of CAF’s leadership, and the decision is expected to be rubber-stamped.
The timing of the AFCON finals has been contentious as it has been played in January, in the middle of the league season in Europe. The majority of AFCON players come from European clubs and increasingly found themselves drawn into a club versus country tug-of-war.
The increase in teams follows the expansion of the European Championship last year, which African observers said had been a success.
But the tournament will not be cut to once every four years as in Europe because its revenue remains a cornerstone of CAF’s income. It also provides much needed competitive matches in the qualifying competition for smaller African associations, whose limited finances means they rely heavily on state support. Such support across Africa is readily given for official competitions as opposed to friendly internationals.
The symposium also recommended much stricter standards on stadia for the finals and said future hosts would have to prove they had the necessary infrastructure, particularly high quality pitches and hotels for teams.
These are problems that have bedeviled previous AFCON finals.
One of the proponents for the expansion is President of the Nigeria Football Federation and President of AFCON, Amaju Pinnick.
“This proposal is hinged on sporting, commercial and infrastructural reasons, and we believe that sooner than later, everyone would come to appreciate the position of the proponents of a bigger Africa Cup of Nations.
“George Weah from Liberia became the only African to have been named the World Player of the Year, same year he was voted the African Player of the Year and European Player of the Year.
He is from a nation (Liberia) many would consider a minnow in the African game. If we have a bigger AFCON, there will definitely be more talented players coming onto the stage, and we could just discover that the next ‘Weah’ would come from either Djibouti or Botswana.
“For commercial reason, more corporate organisations and stakeholders will be involved and it is certainly a bigger cake for everyone. CAF will be richer and the Member Associations will surely benefit.
“When UEFA staged the European Championship in 2012, when it was a 16 –team event, they made a profit of $1.5 billion. Last year, when they staged a 24 –team event for the first time, they made $2.1 billion.
“Having a 24 –team AFCON will also compel the development of stadia facilities across the African continent, as CAF will certainly encourage co-hosting, and this will also ginger general infrastructural development in the continent,” observed the NFF chief.
Former Cameroon goalkeeper, Joseph-Antoine Bell, one of over 200 African football personalities at the symposium, was however opposed to the proposal to increase the scale of the finals to 24 teams.
“This will restrict to just a handful the number of African countries who are able to host future Nations Cup,” stressed the veteran goalkeeper.