The continent’s biggest men’s football tournament, the Africa Cup of Nations, is meant to kick off in Cameroon on 9 January. But the venue for the opening and closing matches, the Paul Biya Stadium in Yaounde, is not ready. And the Oomicron variant of Covid-19 is spreading and causing travel chaos.
The tournament was meant to be held early this year, but was delayed due to the pandemic. Despite the obstacles, a 219-member delegation from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has started arriving in Cameroon. This is the body that oversees the nations cup.
Cameroon has invested a lot in the tournament after it was stripped of hosting rights in 2019, when it was deemed not ready. The confederation is also under new leadership, headed by South African businessman Patrice Motsepe.
The month-long competition will be held in the 40th year of President Paul Biya’s rule. His namesake 60 000-seater stadium is meant to be the centrepiece of the opening and closing ceremony. In November, confederation secretary general Véron Mosengo-Omba said those matches and ceremonies might have to be held at another stadium. Work is still underway across the entire complex, but anyone who reports on or otherwise documents it faces a fine of $17 000. A final decision will be made on the weekend of 18 and 19 December.
CAF has remained tight-lipped about the impact of Covid-19 amid increasing calls to move the competition, including from European football teams, to where some of the top African players work.
Cameroon has yet to record a case of the Omicron variant, however, and despite the challenges, the organisers seem to have bet the farm on either holding it next month – or never.