Friday, October 16, 2009


When executive committee members of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) select hosts for the African Cup of Nations, I have always wondered if the needs of the wider fraternity, rather than their own comforts, play any serious role in selecting which nation is best suited to host a tournament that is the jewel in the crown of the African game.

For anyone in the business of football that has plans to be in the Southern African country of Angola next January, the unanswered question is how we’ll be able to spend one month in this maddeningly expensive nation without begging, borrowing, stealing or going bankrupt.

Decent hotels in the capital Luanda, if you can find one now, go for a minimum of $250-$300 per day, a decent meal costs about $50 a pop and if you need to rent a car, you’ll be lucky if you can keep it to $150 per day.

It’s no different with mobile phones or internet connections, which cost an arm, a leg and probably a head as well…

And, as a resident British journalist in Luanda told me “if you have the misfortune not to speak Portuguese (as English or French is hardly spoken here) I wish you the very best of luck!” she said cheekily.

When my former employers, the BBC, have to cut down on their 2010 Cup of Nations team, because they cannot afford to send the normal complement of reporters to Angola, then you know that there is a BIG problem.

Normally, the BBC World Service team at the African Cup of Nations could be up to 20 people, consisting of reporters, producers and studio managers, which does not include the BBC suits keen on finding any excuse to travel to Africa for a good jolly....

The BBC have been, without question, the single biggest reporting team at the Cup of Nations, from any part of the world, for several years now.

But my former colleagues say they plan to send no more than four people to this tournament.

“There is just no way that we can afford to send a big team there. We just do not have the money,” one of them told me.

The decision to select Angola as the host, when they had no facilities in shape, in September 2006, was one that perplexed commentators of the African game.

Nigeria, who were in direct competition with Angola for the 2010 spot – and wanted to use the tournament as a part of its golden jubilee independence anniversary celebrations – made better sense.

They have spent millions of dollars to knock eight venues in shape (even though it has been done at the pain of death and after repeated visits by FIFA officials, exasperated with the snail-slow preparation pace and unserious work attitude of the Nigerians) for the forthcoming FIFA U-17 World Championship.

With all those grounds still in near mint condition after the tournament ends mid-November, the U17 event would have served as a perfect test run for the Nations Cup, which takes place eights weeks later.

Mustapha Fahmy, CAF’s general secretary, said the reason for taking the tournament to Angola was to “develop the game in countries that have not had the chance of hosting the tournament.”

But should the crown jewel of the African game be awarded to countries as a tool for development or is it meant to be given to those with the needed infrastructure to host a first-class tournament?

CAF has made a wrong choice too many in recent times… In 1988, Morocco had to step in to replace Zambia, South Africa became the emergency host when Kenya couldn’t do it in 1996 and Zimbabwe got itself into such a pickle that Nigeria and Ghana were joint emergency hosts in 2000.

And in cases where they decided to allow countries, like Burkina Faso and Mali, host the tournament in 1998 and 2002, it was clear that they had infrastructural challenges that significantly affected the smooth running of both tournaments.

It is a given, unfortunately, that CAF executive members are shielded from the realities of hosting Nations Cup tournaments in countries that lack infrastructure.

They have the chauffeur driven SUVs, fly around in plush business class seats, rest their heads in five star hotel rooms and get the best views at the match venues. And of course, officials of the host country, keen to please them, attend to their every need.

Do CAF executive members bother to think about the comfort of the journalists (who play a key role in making the tournament a serious global event) and the few fans in Africa that can actually afford the expense of travelling thousands of miles to support their national team? The sad answer is an obvious no.

With the thumbs-up the Angolan Local Organising Committee continues to get from CAF inspectors, it is clear that only the second coming of the Lord will stop the Nations Cup from taking place in Angola.

And yes, I suppose the sublime football that will certainly be on display in Luanda, Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango for 21 days will make many forget about the organisational difficulties of being in a country just emerging from three decades of an exceptionally brutal civil war.

But it is time that only countries with the financial and infrastructural muscle are given the privilege to host the tournament.

I shudder to think how Gabon – oil rich but plagued by serious political instability, following the death of dictator Omar Bongo – will successfully co-host the 2012 tournament with Equatorial Guinea, which has its fair share of political problems.

Oh well, I guess we’ll have to console ourselves with the hope that with nearly five years to prepare, Gadhafi’s Libya will give us a great show in 2014, won't they?…

PS – From the 19th of October, I will be on the FIFA team running the U17 World Cup tournament. Blogging, for obvious reasons, will continue after the end of the tournament in November… My lame apology in advance for yet another hiatus... But if it's any consolation, I'll be back!