The African Nations Championship (CHAN) kicks off in Cameroon this weekend, nine months later than planned, with the continent’s best home-based players contesting the biennial tournament. As has often been the case in recent years, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) — currently without a permanent president after the suspension of disgraced Ahmad Ahmad — will be relieved for attention to return to the action on the pitch after a year of immense coronavirus-enforced disruption. CHAN will doubtless provides a stage for the African football politicking and campaigning that normally accompanies election build-up ahead of March’s vote to appoint Ahmad’s successor.
On Friday, former CAF president Issa Hayatou was granted the status of honorary CAF president in a ceremony in his homeland, with Gianni Infantino and Samuel Eto’o.
The ceremony provided a glittering launch for the tournament, and a clear signal of a new direction away from the Ahmad presidency — the Malagasy administrator had, after all, overseen the cancelling of Hayatou’s pension — but CAF will be desperate for the sixth edition of CHAN to go off without a hitch.
CHAN 2021: The Controversy Before focusing on the football, we have to acknowledge the troubled backdrop to the 2021 tournament — originally scheduled to have taken place in Ethiopia last year; the tournament was moved to Cameroon after the original hosts admitted they weren’t ready, and it was then delayed due to COVID-19.
The pandemic still casts a large shadow. In a statement released by Cameroon’s Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, as seen by ESPN, the hosts outlined their health plans for the tournament.
“In a bid to respect the COVID-19 protocol established by CAF and FIFA, CAF and Cameroon have agreed on the rate of capacity of stadiums during the competition as follows: 25% for all group matches including the opening match, and 50% for all semifinals and finals.”
Kombi also revealed that social distancing and mask-wearing would be enforced in stadiums, with those who did not comply threatened with ejection. Teams will be tested 48 hours before every match, and all delegations and officials have been subjected to airport testing upon their arrival in Cameroon. The second concern for organisers is the state of security in the country, a factor that was one of the reasons why the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations was taken away from Cameroon and later awarded to Egypt. The choice of the Stade Omnisport de Limbe in the South-West region — where there have been threats of separatist violence — appears contentious, and acts of arson reported at the stadium perimeter on the eve of the competition have raised concerns. A militia called Fako Action Forces claimed responsibility for an attack on vehicles on Jan. 14, and issued a statement published in the Journal du Cameroun stating that “Limbe will be a dangerous ground.” Organisers will hope the arson attacks represent the end of their attempted disruption.
CHAN 2021: The Favourites Two nations, in particular,