AFCON2019: Cameroon May Crack With Expanded Format

the Proposed Paul Biya Stadium in Yaounde

The Confederation of African Football –CAF’s executive committee has announced it will be increasing from 16 to 24 the number of teams to participate in the African Cup of Nations, beginning 2019 in Cameroon. This decision is feared could create enormous problems for Cameroon which is already running behind schedule with its infrastructural development.

Sports and Physical Education minister Ismeal Bidoung Mkpatt had to mount a media campaign to reassure the  national and international public that Cameroon will deliver and ahead of time for the tournament.

There had been huge concerns in both local and international media that Cameroon was running late with key stadiums in Yaoundé and Douala still under construction stalling due to lack of finances. Despite the security concerns and the social unrests in some parts of the country and an impending economic crisis, minister Bidoung said the head of state Paul Biya and the government are putting everything together for Cameroon to host Africa come 2019.

This was before CAF landed what some analysts qualify as a “bolt from the blue” into Cameroons preparation. Even the likes of Patrick Mboma had casts doubts on Cameroon’s readiness, fearing we could miss out of the tournament.  Morocco and Algeria where also positioning to topple Cameroon if the slightest means provided itself.  Both countries expressed their readiness to step in if Cameroon is unable.

After Thursday’s decision by CAF following a Symposium on African Football held in Morocco, Cameroon’s FA president Tombi A Roko expressed his disappointment. Speaking over RFI, he said "We are in a world of law and we are not going to change the rules of the game along the way" referring to the new expanded format. "For me, the 2019 CAN is underway and the playoffs have started," he added.

Cameroon’s initial dossier to host the competition made mention of five host cities in Douala, Yaounde, Bafoussam, Garoua and Limbe. The country would now need six venues to accommodate the 24 participating teams. Only the town of Limbe looks completely ready for the event.

Work is yet to start on the Garoua Roumd Adjia Ominisport Stadium. The stadium’s 16000 seats needs to be extended to 20 000, refurbish dressing rooms and the lighting and play ground and four training grounds constructed from scratch. These include the annex stadium, the Lamido Hayatou de Poupoumre stadium, the Gandarmarie and Cenajes training fields which all will be equipped with 2000 seats and dressing rooms to meet CAF standards. These works have been handed over to Chinese and Portugese companies.  Beside a four star hotel promised as part of the campaign to win the rights to host is yet to take off. Garoua’s major streets need a shake up too while the Airport is begging for attention just like the communication network.

Douala's proposed Japoma Stadium

The Bafoussam Ominisport Stadium is ready to host but the government will need to inject at least 15 Billion francs to catch up. The two annex stadiums are still to be constructed just like the Bandjoun and Mbouda stadiums to be used as training grounds. There is also the access road into Kwekong from Bandjoun, the road network in Bafoussam and hotel facilities. The Bafussam Regional Hospital is still to be upgraded, security improved and the telecommunication network upgraded. Two Chinese firms have been brought in to relieve government of the Bafoussam headache. CMEC and China Shanxi will handle the annex stadium and exterior works at the Stade annex and the Bandjoun and Mbouda grounds respectively.

For Douala and Yaoundé, the greatest problems remain the main stadiums which are yet to see the light of day. The Turkish firm contracted for the Paul Biya Stadium and its two annexes in Yaoundé has opted to import pre-fabricated parts to speed up the project. The Amadou Ahidjo Stadium and its annexes and the Military Stadium are operational and ready host.

 The Japoma stadium in Douala has just kicked off. But the problem in Douala is the training grounds with work expected to be carried out on the Reunification Stadium, the Mbappe Leppe and Bonamousadi training stadiums. These works have been awarded to a French company ACOR while the Canadian company CCC is to refurbish the Douala Reunification stadium and its annexes. Douala’s road network is still under construction, though this will hopefully be completed by 2018.

While the heat seems to be on Cameroon, public authorities may breathe a sigh of relief as the same decision to expand the tournament also moved it from January and February to June and July. This gives Cameroon an additional six months for the government to romp up its rhetoric.

While the demands are pushing Cameroon to the brink, Bamenda is silently hoping that the authorities may decide on a sixth venue to meet the new exigencies of CAF, which may providentially fall on it.

By Abongwa Fozo

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