YEAR IN REVIEW: The election of Ahmad the catalyst for Afcon expansion


FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) shakes hands with president of the African Football Confederation (CAF) ...
(FILE)FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) shakes hands with president of the African Football Confederation (CAF) Ahmad Ahmad during the first ever African Football Symposium in Skhirat on the outskirts of the Moroccan capital on July 18, 2017. Delegates from CAF's 55 member federations, coaches, retired players as well as top football officials from FIFA are in the Moroccan capital to discuss, among other issues, the future of African Cup of Nations, including its format and timing. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Upon taking over the Confederation of African Football (CAF) presidency in March 2017, Ahmad Ahmad promised more inclusivity in the sport.

Few knew how the cards will be played to realize his agenda, but three months later in a phenomenal symposium held in Rabat, Morocco, expansion of African Cup of Nations (AFCON) marked a major step of the process.

From 2019, the biggest African football competition will bring together 24 teams, from the current 16. Africa’s flagship sporting event had featured 16 teams since 1996.

With the massive support, Ahmad administration has been enjoying from the federation heads, their proposal which eventually saw the light of the day had the overwhelming support of stakeholders.

One of the strongest proponents of the expansion of the Afcon was none other than Nigeria Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick, countering critics who felt the move would render the tournament less tasty.

“This proposal is hinged on sporting, commercial and infrastructural reasons, and we believe that sooner than later, everyone would come to appreciate the position of the proponents of a bigger Africa Cup of Nations,” Amaju said.

“George Weah from Liberia became the only African to have been named the World Player of the Year, the same year he was voted the African Player of the Year and European Player of the Year.

Recently elected president of the African Football Confederation (CAF) Ahmad Ahmad gives a speech during the first ever African Football Symposium in Skhirat, on the outskirts of the Moroccan capital, on July 18, 2017. Delegates from all CAF's 55 member federations, coaches, retired players as well as top football officials from FIFA are in the Moroccan city of Rabat to discuss , among other issues, the future of African Cup of Nations, including its format and timing. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER
(FILE)Recently elected president of the African Football Confederation (CAF) Ahmad Ahmad gives a speech during the first ever African Football Symposium in Skhirat, on the outskirts of the Moroccan capital, on July 18, 2017.Delegates from all CAF’s 55 member federations, coaches, retired players as well as top football officials from FIFA are in the Moroccan city of Rabat to discuss , among other issues, the future of African Cup of Nations, including its format and timing. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

He comes from a nation (Liberia) many would consider a minnow in the African game. If we have a bigger Afcon, there will definitely be more talented players coming onto the stage, and we could just discover that the next ‘Weah’ would come from either Djibouti or Botswana,”Amaju, who is also the CAF president in charge of Afcon and Media Committee explained then.

Amaju and Co also envisaged more revenues reaching more CAF members, and upholding emphasizing the inclusivity factor.

“For a commercial reason, more corporate organizations and stakeholders will be involved and it is certainly a bigger cake for everyone.

CAF will be richer and the Member Associations will surely benefit. When UEFA staged the European Championship in 2012, when it was a 16-team event, they made a profit of $1.5 billion. Last year, when they staged a 24-team event for the first time, they made $2.1 billion.

“Having a 24 –team AFCON will also compel the development of stadia facilities across the African continent, as CAF will certainly encourage co-hosting, and this will also ginger general infrastructural development in the continent,” the Nigerian football chief added.

A combination photo made on March 14, 2017 shows Malagasy Football Federation president Ahmad Ahmad (L) in Antananarivo on February 13, 2017 and Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou in Zurich on January 11, 2016. PHOTO/RIJASOLO, Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A combination photo made on March 14, 2017 shows Malagasy Football Federation president Ahmad Ahmad (L) in Antananarivo on February 13, 2017 and Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou in Zurich on January 11, 2016. PHOTO/RIJASOLO, Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Meanwhile, the expansion added into the burden of Cameroon hosting the 2019 tournament, with the addition of eight teams.

The extra teams require two extra stadia, among other minimum requirements for hosting.

Closer home, Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa welcomed the move saying Kenya could be a direct beneficiary.

Kenya Harambee Stars players celebrates Ochieng Ovella’s goal against Zanzibar during their Cecafa Senior challenge cup final match at Kenyatta stadium in Machakos on December 17, 2017. Photo/Oliver Ananda/Sportpicha/Citizen

“We have a higher chance of featuring in the Cameroon 2019 finals. Competition has been very stiff with the kind of football development Africa is witnessing.

“Sometimes you don’t miss out because you are very poor, but because the format has limited spaces,” said Mwendwa.

Kenya, however, began the qualifiers by losing to Sierra Leone away in Free Town 2-1 and will have to be in their best element in the remaining qualifiers if they are to stand a chance.

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