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Hosting a spectacular event
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 01 - 2019

It's been 11 days since Egypt was named host of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Since then, the Nations Cup, the organisers and the participating teams have been the talk in Egypt, Africa and the rest of the world. And why not. AFCON is considered the third biggest football event in the world, after the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Cup.
Still, Egyptians and others are anxious about the organisation of this most prestigious sports event in the continent and are wondering whether Egypt can really meet the requirements in the six months left before the 32nd edition kicks off on 15 June. They are not questioning Egypt's capability to host the biennial event because this is not the first time the host nation has staged AFCON, and it has produced superbly organised events in other sports. But there are questions concerning how prepared Egypt is when such a tournament usually takes years to prepare for.
This edition was initially scheduled to be hosted in Cameroon, the title holders of 2017. But, on 30 November last year, the African Football Federation (CAF) stripped Cameroon of hosting the tournament for failing to meet the organisational requirements of the one-month event.
On 8 January, at a vote taken by the CAF's Executive Committee in Dakar, Senegal, Egypt received 16 votes while South Africa, Egypt's only contender for the bid, took only one vote. One member abstained.
The tournament, which ends 13 July, will be the first Africa Cup to be held in summer instead of winter, and more importantly, from the organisational standpoint, the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams, which could cause logistical nightmares.
But Egypt is experienced in organising major international events, and has the calibers with the know-how to deliver an outstanding championship.
And additional help is on the way. This time, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) will not be the sole organiser but will be joined by local authorities and several ministries. The Egyptian government is enthusiastic and is taking this event, in particular, seriously and promises to produce the most successful sports event in its history. Ministries of youth and sports, tourism, foreign affairs and interior are all set to contribute to the success of the tournament and to ensure that the participating teams, fans and media all enjoy their stay in Egypt. Governors of the selected cities have also joined forces with the ministries and the organisers during the event.
Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli will lead the building-up process and follow up with the organisation as head of the Supreme Organising Committee, providing all necessary requirements and helping knock down obstacles to prevent any delays.
EFA President Hani Abu Rida has been named head of the Local Organising Committee (LOC). Abu Rida, also a FIFA Council member and CAF executive board member, is yet to select his LOC department heads and assistants. By next week, the details concerning the venues and stadiums that will host the event will be confirmed and renovation works will start immediately.
Earlier this week, Madbouli and Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi both visited Cairo Stadium, dubbed ‘The Stadium of the Nation' which will host both the opening and closing matches. Renovation and restoration work had already begun in the stadium even before Egypt entered the bid to host the tournament. The famed stadium had seen the Pharaohs win the AFCON trophy in 1986 and in the even more spectacular 2006 edition.
So far, according to EFA, there are six main stadiums: Cairo Stadium, Al-Salam Stadium, Alexandria Stadium, Ismailia Stadium, Suez Stadium and Port Said Stadium in five cities: Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, Port Said and Suez.
The EFA has also announced that the draw for the 24 teams to decide on the groups the countries will be placed in will be held on the first week of April. However, neither a firm date nor the draw's location have been decided.
This would be the fifth time Egypt hosts the Africa Cup of Nations, having staged it in 1957, 1974, 1986 and 2006. Egypt has also won the AFCON a record seven times.
The number of times Egypt has hosted the tournament, and won it, speaks volumes as to how successful the country has been in African football and this is what Egyptians are counting on. But it should be noted that there is a 13-year gap between the last time Egypt hosted the tournament and today. Times have changed. The country is not the same as before, by all means, politically, economically and socially. The world itself has changed. Social media, for example, did not exist in 2006.
As for Cameroon, it did not leave the scene empty-handed. CAF made it clear that it would host the 2021 edition instead, leaving them enough time to sort out their infrastructure delays. But this means that the original hosts for 2021 and 2023 would have to delay their tournaments. Guinea has already accepted the move from 2023 to 2025, while Ivory Coast, which was named as the 2021 edition, has objected and is said to have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.


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