The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is one of the main continental tournaments in international soccer and the latest edition of the 24-team event will kick off in January 2022 in Cameroon. Algeria is ready to defend the title it won in 2019.
However, new doubts have been raised as to whether the latest edition of AFCON will go ahead given the increase in COVID cases worldwide due to the Omicron variant.
So will AFCON 2021 be canceled and why is the competition in danger of being delayed? Here’s everything we know so far.
Could AFCON be canceled?
AFCON has been reported to be in danger of being canceled due to increasing cases of Omicron COVID-19 variants.
The tournament has already been delayed from its original summer start date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has been suggested that another postponement, or even cancellation, is now imminent. Some 40 Premier League players are expected to participate in the African competition, and discussion has already started on the impact of the club season if they participate in the tournament.
Clearly the clubs have time to make preparations on how to replace players, but at some level there are no replacement talents like Mohamed Salah, N’Golo Kante and many others who could make the journey. Since clubs are already grappling with downsizing due to COVID-19, further reducing the pool of players could cause serious difficulties for clubs.
Additionally, travel to Africa and back to Europe could require additional quarantine measures as the squads seek to stay as full as possible to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into their camps.
COVID-19 cases are emerging on the African continent at a rate almost twice the height of the Delta variant. Furthermore, the equity of vaccines across the continent varies significantly, with only 20 out of 54 African countries registering a vaccination rate above 10 percent, and only six reaching 40 percent. The estimates have the vaccination rate in Cameroon by about 2 percent.
The African Football Confederation responds
There has yet to be any formal announcement regarding the possible cancellation of the tournament. However, AFCON organizers could reportedly be forced to modify their plans due to security and logistical concerns.
RMC Sport reports that there is “uncertainty” surrounding the tournament and that the CAF (Confederation of African Football) could cancel the event.
CAF communications director Alex Siewe has dismissed talks about a cancellation, telling the BBC: “We cannot continue to spend time dealing with the rumors.”
The European Club Association (ECA) also recently threatened not releasing players for the tournament. The ECA stated that it is seeking guarantees regarding “three fundamental concerns for clubs when it comes to the transfer of players to national teams.”
Those concerns are “the well-being of all players is protected”, “that clubs are not required to be without players for club competition matches” and that players should be able to return to their clubs “in a timely manner, in accordance with the applicable rules “below the conclusion of the tournament.
“At present, these three principles run the risk of not being respected in relation to the upcoming January launches,” the ECA stated in its statement.
When will AFCON 2021 take place?
The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations will officially kick off on January 9 in Cameroon.
The host nation will face Burkina Faso in the opening match in Yaoundé, and action is scheduled to continue until the final in the capital city on February 6.
However, it was previously feared that Cameroon would be stripped of its hosting duties after problems with preparations. Former African Football Confederation technical director Abdel Moneim Shatta even suggested in early December that the event could be moved to Qatar.
Since then, CAF Secretary General Veron Mosengo-Omba has joined the team in Cameroon to make sure everything is ready by January 9, but the latest surge in Omicron cases could once again lead to a rethink. .
There is a recent precedent for the change of hosts near the scheduled start of the tournament. In 2019, Cameroon was also scheduled to host the event, but the decision was made to make Egypt the new host with only six months to go before the tournament. The change was made due to delays in the delivery of the required infrastructure.
When could AFCON 2021 be rescheduled?
It is not yet known when AFCON could be rescheduled, if it is postponed again.
Given that the 2022 World Cup will not take place until November in Qatar, there is a potential gap for AFCON in the summer of 2022, but the possibility of player exhaustion should also be taken into account after the conclusion of the season of clubs in May.