By the end of this month there should‚ at last‚ be finality on the hosting of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals after some 18 months of frenzied speculation.
It is to be played from June 15 to July‚ 13 but where?
Cameroon were awarded the right to host the event back in September 2014 in a move seen as providing a fitting swansong for long-standing Confederation of African Football (Caf) president Issa Hayatou.
However‚ his subsequent removal from office‚ the expansion of the finals from 16 to 24 teams and an air of political revenge have left the continent’s showpiece event facing renewed turmoil over its hosting.
After three decades of leading the organisation‚ it was intended for Hayatou be able to bask in the limelight of his country’s hosting of the tournament as he looked to exit in some glory.
Those plans were derailed in his surprise election defeat in March last year when the unheralded Ahmad of Madagascar‚ who uses just one name‚ won the presidency in a clear repudiation of Hayatou’s heavy-handed grip on the African game as member associations voted for someone fresh.
Within months‚ Morocco had moved swiftly to provide Ahmad with logistical and monetary backing as he sought to reform of the African game‚ among which ideas the expansion of the size of the finals to 24 teams in the wake of the unexpected success of the similar move by Uefa for the 2016 European Championship in France.
It was an opportunity for Morocco to regain lost political ground across the continent too‚ as they sought to mend political fences after decades of shunning the African Union and after the public relations disaster around the 2015 Afcon finals.
Morocco were supposed to host Afcon 2015 but then effectively pulled out because they did not want to allow in travelling fans from other countries for fear over the spread of the Ebola virus.
Ahmad made it clear early on that Cameroon’s capabilities would be put under severe examination as he insisted future Afcon finals be hosted in top class conditions.
There would be no more last-minute stadium construction with resultant poor pitches‚ as had been the case in Gabon in 2017‚ or a lack of hotel infrastructure and transport as in Equatorial Guinea two years before that.
And to make the entire process fair‚ it was announced that an audit of Cameroon’s infrastructure and progress towards delivering the 2019 Finals‚ would be done by an outside organisation‚ whose recommendations would be binding.
Morocco‚ it was also made clear‚ would happily wait in the wings ready to handle the first 24-team tournament with ready-made stadiums and a fulsome tourism infrastructure.
Morocco will not hesitate for a second to respond favourably to any invitation to host this Afcon‚” said their football association president Faouzi Lekjaa.
So‚ for the last year‚ a decision has been awaited with a sword handing over Cameroon’s head as political forces trade punches and the pendulum swings from one side to the other.
Finality was promised in September‚ when Caf held its Congress in Egypt‚ but that meeting deferred a decision to this month‚ after yet another inspection team had been dispatched to Cameroon. It has been and gone in recent days.
The country has made a desperate effort to hold onto the tournament and stadium construction is in full swing although whether it is good enough and will be ready for the kickoff in June next year is unclear.
Venues are planned for Bafoussam‚ Douala‚ Garoua‚ Limbe and two stadiums in Yaounde.
Ahmad has since muddied the waters by travelling to Cameroon to meet with president Paul Biya and then insisted that Caf have never had any intention of taking the tournament.
But that contradicts other top officials who say moving it to Morocco is already a sealed deal. Africa awaits a decision.
Times Sunday Paper