Caf president Patrice Motsepe makes emergency dash to Cameroon as Afcon hangs in the balance

20 December 2021 - 13:37
Caf president and Mamelodi Sundowns owner Dr Patrice Motsepe.
Image: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images Caf president and Mamelodi Sundowns owner Dr Patrice Motsepe.

Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Patrice Motsepe has made an emergency dash to Cameroon as the country’s hosting of next month’s Africa Cup of Nations finals hangs in the balance.

Motsepe arrived in the country on Monday as concerns rise over health protocols and the impact on the image of the African game were there to be a mass outbreak of Covid-19 virus infections during the tournament, plus growing concerns over the preparedness of the host country, saw the Caf executive committee meet on Sunday to consider a proposal to cancel or postpone the event.

They are under pressure from Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who feels the event should be called off and who on Sunday encouraged the Caf leadership to do so. He was supported in his assertion by several key executive committee members, including vice president Faouzi Lekjaa, but most voted to keep the tournament on schedule, contingent on a trip to the country by Motsepe.

He is meeting with the Cameroon government to seek assurances but primarily also to check on readiness with the kick off of the tournament just weeks away. The tournament starts on January 9 but hotels and other facilities are in short supply and the event threatens to be damaged by a lack of organisation. The expansion of the field of finalists to 24 teams from 16 was made by Caf after Cameroon were awarded the hosting of the event and looks to have stretched the country’s resources past breaking point. Cameroon have already had two postponements of the tournament they were originally supposed to host in 2019. Caf last week sent their general secretary Véron Mosengo-Omba to the country to push for a speeding up of preparations.

He had threatened last month to move the opening game from the newly built Olembe Stadium in Yaounde unless work was completed by November 30, but that deadline has passed with work still ongoing. A French TV report about the stadium being far from ready was followed by a police ban on any filming or pictures being taken of the venue

Repeated meetings between Caf and local ministers have brought promises of action but little actual progress, according to insiders. The situation is exacerbated by the outbreak of the Omicron variant and the worldwide concern over its rapid spread. Cameroon have announced they will insist on spectators being vaccinated and showing the negative result of a PCR test before being allowed in the stadium, but observers said it is impractical in a country where vaccination uptake is less than 10% and testing facilities sparse and expensive.

Caf have already shown their lack of faith in Cameroon health facilities by announcing they were planning to bring in an outside laboratory and all equipment necessary for the testing of the 24 teams. However, pressure for the European Clubs Association continue to weigh heavily and Infantino does not want to risk a major crisis and public relations disaster if the tournament is struck by mass infections.