AFCON Expansion will take effect from 2019 at the 32nd edition of the African tournament…
Several changes have been made in African grand football tournament -the African Cup of Nations (AFCON). For those who do not know, the tournament will move from January-February to June-July and will be expanded to 24 teams.
These decisions were made by the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) executive committee on Thursday, July 20, in Rabat, Morocco. The committee adopted recommendations made at a wide-ranging symposium.
Of course, mixed reactions followed the final decision of Africa’s football governing body. While some stakeholders lauded CAF for the initiative, some, however, expressed concerns over its implementation.
The number of teams to partake in the African Cup of Nations has been expanded. An additional eight teams were added to the already existing 16, making it a total of 24 teams. CAF added two more groups with some of the top losers from all group progressing to the round of 16 which has been added with the new change.
The first edition of the competition brought together three teams, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia in 1957. In the third edition of 1962, six more teams joined the former three to make the total nine, before another expansion, was effected 30 years later, taking the teams’ tally to 12. The figure remained until 1998 when four more were added to realize today’s 16.
However, concerns have been raised by some stakeholders concerning the quality of the tournament. These concerns revolve around fears that the tournament will suffer in quality. Quality here refers to the current standard or value at which the African tournament is estimated.
This section of stakeholders fears that more teams or countries would mean more pressure and tension for organizers – a force which will go further to affect the already stabilized system. Furthermore, the next Nations Cup hosts -Cameroon, must deliver a final in 2019, for 24 teams despite having bid for a 16-team event -another cause for worry among these stakeholders.
But Nigeria’s Amaju Pinnick who presides over CAF’s Nations Cup Organising Committee believes African football will be ‘redefined’ as a result of the changes.
Speaking to BBC Sport, the CAF executive committee member cited some benefits anticipated to follow the AFCON expansion, with regards to business, infrastructure and the sport itself. However, he was quick to add that there may be challenges at the beginning but continued that on the long run, these changes will start building up to the quality people know the AFCON for.
He further said that the AFCON expansion will allow more opportunity for footballers across the continent. According to him, it will increase revenue for CAF and triple the body’s income and force more infrastructure development.
The increase in teams from 16 to 24, follows the expansion of the European Championship last year, which African observers said had been a success.
CAF chose to move its timing from January/February to June/July. AFCON from 2019, will be played in the summer, June/July in line with Europe football calendar. It however, will continue to be held every two years as against the earlier proposed four years.
The timing of 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. But this change is hoped to address the disturbing issue.