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China offers to assist Cameroon host 2019 African football tournament

By Kimeng Hilton Ndukong (People's Daily Online)    16:05, August 14, 2017

President Paul Biya and wife, Chantal Biya, last week held a reception for athletes during which he spoke of Cameroon's readiness to host AFCON 2019. Photo credit: Cameroon Tribune

Cameroon will host the 2019 African Cup of Nations, AFCON, football tournament after first doing so in 1972. As the buildup to the competition now to hold in June and July 2019 gathers steam, there have been concerns in some quarters as to Cameroon’s ability to organize the continental football tournament that will as from 2019 see an increase in the number of participating teams from 16 in four pools to 24 in six pools.

CAF fears

Speaking on August 6 at a press conference in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, the President of the African Football Confederation, CAF, Madagascar-born Ahmad Ahmad, said if the competition were to be organized now, Cameroon will not be able to host even four teams!

Ahmad Ahmad however promised that an inspection team (made up for the first time of independent consultants instead of CAF members) will be dispatched to Cameroon from August 20 on an 8-day mission to assess the level of preparations for Africa’s most prestigious football tournament.

China promises support

In this light, China’s Ambassador to Cameroon, Wei Wenhua, on August 9 in the capital, Yaounde, met the Minister of Sports and Physical Education, Bidoung Mkpatt. He assured him of China’s readiness to assist in ensuring a smooth competition. “I am convinced that Cameroon will organize a successful AFCON tournament in 2019,” the Ambassador told the press after meeting Minister Bidoung.

Limbe stadium was constructed by a Chinese firm with the country's financial support. Photo credit: FECAFOOT

He said just like with the 2016 women’s AFCON hosted by Cameroon, China was again ready to lend its support and assistance. Wei Wenhua used the occasion to congratulate Cameroon for successfully hosting the 2016 women’s AFCON.

The Chinese diplomat said long-standing cooperation and business ties between the two countries were also revisited. The Ambassador disclosed that China partly financed and constructed the Limbe and Bafoussam stadia. Limbe Stadium hosted Pool B matches during last year’s women’s AFCON, while Bafoussam Stadium will be used for the 2019 AFCON.

Wei Wenhua recalled that China’s media giant, the StarTimes Group, provided Cameroon’s public broadcaster, CRTV, with sophisticated outside broadcast equipment for covering both the 2016 women’s AFCON and 2019 male AFCON. He promised continuous Chinese support as the country prepares for the 2019 AFCON and expressed hope that as a big football nation, Cameroon will also help in developing the game in China.

Ambassador Wei Wenhua last week met Bidoung Mkpatt_ Cameroon's Minister of Sports and Physical Education to pledge China's support in the country's hosting of AFCON 2019. Photo credit: Cameroon Tribune

Angry Cameroon reactions

There has been a furore of reactions by Cameroonian officials and ordinary people to the “undiplomatic” utterances by the continental football head. The Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, and his counterpart of Sports and Physical Education, Bidoung Mkpatt, early last week held a joint press conference to refute CAF’s allegations.

They said though much was still to be done in terms of stadium construction, building and improving existing roads and hotel facilities, the country will be ready given that the tournament has been moved from January and February to June and July 2019. They assured stakeholders that the extra six months will enable the country to better prepare the competition.

At a reception for Cameroonian athletes who did well in recent international competitions, President Paul Biya on August 10 assured that the country will be ready - even under the new format of 24 teams - for the 2019 AFCON male tournament. He followed up his pledge the next day by creating a local organizing committee to ensure that all goes well come 2019.

AFCON new format

Sequel to last month’s symposium on reorganizing African football in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, CAF on July 20 decided amongst others that the Africa Cup of Nations competition will as from 2019 have 24 teams in six pools instead of 16 teams in four pools.

Observers said the “abrupt” changes posed a major problem given that Cameroon was earlier awarded hosting right for the tournament based on the old format of 16 teams divided into four pools. Now, the timing of the tournament has been moved from January and February to June and July to enable African professionals in European leagues conclude their seasons.

Cameroonian officials were irked by CAF suggestions that the country might not be ready to host Africa in 2019. Photo credit: FECAFOOT

Cameroon on diplomatic offensive

At the August 6 press conference in Ouagadougou, Ahmad Ahmad expressed concern at Cameroon’s “ill-preparedness” for AFCON 2019, saying Morocco and Algeria were each interested in taking over if Cameroon failed to impress CAF. In response, the Cameroonian Minister Delegate in the Ministry of External Relations in charge of Relations with the Islamic World, Adoum Gargoum, on August 8, 2017 in the capital, Yaounde, met separately with three foreign diplomats.

They were the Ambassador of Egypt to Cameroon, Sherif Salah Eldin Elleithy, the Acting Chargé d’Affaires of Algeria to Cameroon, Yacine Amir and the Acting Chargé d’Affaires of Morocco to Cameroon, Alaoui Slimani Karim. While Morocco and Algeria have each expressed interest in taking over the 2019 tournament hosting from Cameroon, Egypt is where Africa’s continental football body is based.

Cameroon will be ready!

Though none of the diplomats spoke to reporters after the meetings, the Secretary General in the Ministry of External Relations, Mbayu Felix, said Cameroon dismissed CAF claims that it was incapable of hosting AFCON 2019. He said Cameroon reiterated the statement of Tombi à Roko Sidiki, President of Cameroon Football Federation, FECAFOOT on the level of preparation, citing ongoing works at different sites to host the competition and assured that Cameroon will be ready for the event. Cameroon is the defending champions of the Africa Cup of Nations after winning the tournament in Gabon earlier this year.

Cameroon is current AFCON champions having won the cup earlier this year in Gabon. Photo credit: FECAFOOT

Kimeng Hilton Ndukong is Sub-Editor for World News with Cameroon Tribune bilingual daily newspaper in Cameroon. He is currently on media attachment with People’s Daily Online in English. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wu Chengliang, Bianji)

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