Afcon: Lessons EA can take from Gabon event

Sunday October 08 2023

Egypt’s Tarek Hamed (L) vies for the ball with Kenya’s Anthony Okumu during their Afcon qualifiers at Moi international sports centre Kasarani in Nairobi, Kenya on March 25,2021. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG


Gabon’s endorsement to co-host the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) alongside Equatorial Guinea was received with excitement by the citizens at the time, as the competition dubbed the “African World Cup” offered an opportunity for the country to host the continent.

It also offered a chance for the Central African nation’s football team to gauge itself against some of the top talents and national teams in Africa.

Football has transformed into a multibillion industry for footballers, and the Nations Cup is a hunting ground for wealthy European and Asian clubs scouting for talent.

The plan worked at the time, as the Panthers, the Gabonese national team, impressed, easily beating Niger, Tunisia and Morocco to win all the group matches, before a shock loss – on post-match penalties – to Mali in the quarters.

Read: Kenya eliminates Cameroon in Wafcon qualifiers

Five years later, Gabon, again, convinced the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to award it the hosting rights of the tournament after political turmoil stopped Libya from staging it.


Again, dethroned president Ali Bongo’s administration pumped in millions of dollars to stage the competition, which consisted of 16 top national teams, including Morocco, Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal.

Analysts suggested the decision to host the tournament was aimed at calming nerves after a disputed presidential election in which Mr Bongo controversially beat Jean Ping, his brother-in-law, in an exercise that turned violent, resulting in the burning down of Parliament buildings in Libreville.

The generous Bongo pulled all the stops to host top football officials, including making available a chartered flight to ferry then CAF president Issa Hayatou and journalists from one venue to another in the cities of Libreville, Franceville, Oyem and Port Gentil. Journalistscheekily christened the flight “Hayatou Express”.

This time round, however, the Panthers, captained by star-boy Pierre Emerick Aubamayang,struggled on the pitch, posting draws against Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and Cameroon to suffer an early exit from the tournament.

Fast forward, and the financial implications of staging this tournament are beginning to bite.

Read: EA sports ministers plan Mombasa strategy talks

A report by the Daily Star, an English publication, indicates the Omar Bongo stadium in Libreville, which was revamped to a 40,000-seater modern stadium at the cost of $220million, is wasting away, with little sports activity taking place at the venue.

Another report by France 24 indicates venues in Oyem and Port Gentil “are in deplorable state,” having not been used for a while concerns have also been raised about stadia in the Angolan cities of Benguela and Cabinda after the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

These remain deserted, with league matches hardly hosting 2,000 fans in venues with a 20,000 capacity. Inconsistent revenue means the government has to look elsewhere for resources to maintain the stadia.

in Cameroon, during the recent Nations Cup, stadia in Olembe and Douala remained empty.

Hosting the Afcon requires millions of dollars, mostly from public coffers, to establish the required infrastructure and for logistics.

On most occasions, there is very little return on investment, save for, maybe, the thousands of short-term jobs. Other revenue streams such as the sale of TV rights and gate collections are submitted to the tournament organisers.