Sun, Dec 02, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Cameroon nixed as host of Africa Cup of Nations

AP

With stadiums only half-built and a violent separatist rebellion playing out dangerously close to planned venues, Cameroon on Friday was stripped of the right to host next year’s Africa Cup of Nations little more than six months before kickoff.

It is the fourth successive time Africa’s top soccer tournament has had to change host country at the last minute.

The decision was made by the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) after a special meeting of its executive committee in Ghana, where the women’s African Cup is being played.

CAF president Ahmad, who goes by one name, said it was “a crucial and decisive moment for the good of African football.”

A rushed bidding process is now to take place, with CAF saying a host country would be chosen by Dec. 31.

Morocco, which lost out to a joint US-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 World Cup, had already been touted as a replacement host and is seen as the favorite to step in.

The tournament is scheduled to be played from June 15 to July 13 and is the first Africa Cup to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

The extra teams caused Cameroon to commit to having six stadiums and not the usual four.

“A number of compliance conditions have not been met,” CAF said in a statement.

Cameroon’s preparations had been under scrutiny since it won the right to host in 2014, but gained momentum in September when CAF, which had previously been unwilling to criticize the country publicly, said there was a “significant delay” with stadiums and other infrastructure.

The decision to dump Cameroon was likely made since then, but CAF still gave Cameroon a last chance and scheduled two more inspection visits.

One of them was to assess preparations while the other was by a joint CAF-FIFA team to gauge the security situation after an escalation in fighting in the northwestern and southwestern parts of Cameroon.

The violence, between English-speaking separatists and government forces, became as problematic as Cameroon’s inadequate infrastructure. Two cities due to host games, Limbe and Bafoussam, are deep in the regions where the fighting is.

Just last week, Cameroon’s military said it killed at least 43 armed separatists in a region in the northwest close to Bafoussam and the violence has escalated dramatically.

Claiming they are being marginalized in the largely French-speaking country, the separatists also vowed to disrupt and even attack the Africa Cup if it went ahead.

Keeping the tournament in Cameroon would have left CAF facing the possibility that some of Africa’s top stars who play for big European teams would have declined to travel on safety grounds.

The tournament “could not be exposed to any issues that could impact on the success of the most prestigious African competition,” CAF said.

The decision also brought complications for Cameroon’s team, who are the defending champions and were given a place at the tournament as the host.

CAF did not say if Cameroon’s team would keep their place.

Africa Cup hosting has been a headache for CAF, with the past four not played in the country to which they were initially awarded. It is held every two years.

South Africa stepped in for war-torn Libya as host in 2013, Equatorial Guinea replaced Morocco in 2015 and Gabon stood in for Libya, which again could not host last year.

Morocco might be the favorite to rescue CAF this time, but lost the tournament three years ago after it threatened to stop fans traveling from West African countries affected by that year’s Ebola outbreak.

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