As Gusau resumes NFF job, five key tasks undercut Nigeria’s push to host Africa Cup of Nations after 22 years
In 2000, Nigeria co-hosted the 22nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with West Africa neighbour Ghana. Nigeria has however gone on hiatus since then, despite aspirations to stage international football tournaments in Nigeria.
Nigeria has lost AFCON hosting bids in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2019 but the unsuccessful tide appears to be turning with CAF’s withdrawal of Guinea’s hosting rights for the 2025 tournament.
Nigeria Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick has thrown the country’s gauntlet into the ring to replace its West Counterpart. Luckily, Nigeria is yet the sole contender.
But wishes are not horses, so there are conditions to be satisfied for CAF to look Nigeria’s way. Security, stadiums, facilities and allied requirements must satisfy CAF’s line of best fit.
Indeed, the task is uphill for the new team that took charge of administration of football in Nigeria this week.
In 2010, Nigeria launched a bid to host the top event but lost to Angola, only managing to be named reserved host in case the oil rich southern African nation failed to meet CAF’s expectations. That was, however, not to be.
Again in 2012, the country renewed its interest to host the biennial tournament on Nigerian soil after twelve years but the bid was futile as African football authorities awarded a joint hosting right to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Nigeria was again named as the reserve host.
When CAF decided to switch to an odd year hosting in 2013, Nigeria lost the hosting bid for the third consecutive time, this time to South Africa. Incidentally, South Africa was not not even among the initial bidders.
Compensatorily, Nigeria won that AFCON edition, defeating Burkina Faso 1-0 in the final to clinch her third continental trophy.
Most recently, CAF outright rejected Nigeria’s bid for the 2019 AFCON in favour of Egypt. Nigeria emerged from that north African tourney with a bronze medal.
Having suffered a string of misses at hosting Africa’s biggest football show for 22 years, the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation, in July, announced its intention to host 2025 AFCON in conjunction with neighbouring Benin Republic.
Nigeria was seeking to strip already-awarded host Guinea of its rights, over concerns about the country’s security due to political tension.
The push was quickly rebuffed by CAF.
“The host for the 2025 tournament remains Guinea and that has not changed,” a top CAF official told BBC Sport Africa. “We’ve not discussed anything about a replacement or received any communication from Guinea about the inability to host.”
“At this very moment, everything is on track for Guinea to host and there is no reason to suggest otherwise,” the official stressed.
Meanwhile, just over a month after Amaju Pinnick’s push for Nigeria was parried, CAF Executive Committee decided to strip Guinea of the 2025 AFCON hosting rights, asserting that the military-ruled country “will not be ready to host the competition.”
“The Executive Committee took a unanimous decision based on the report as submitted that the tournament be withdrawn from Guinea,” CAF statement read in parts. “The President suggested that a delegation be sent to Guinea to inform them of the decision taken by EXCO.”
CAF’s decision seems to swing the pendulum in Nigeria’s favour being the lone country still in the hunt but the African Giant is not without its own challenges which might impede the consideration to host Africa with just three years left.
As is the standard, Nigeria faces an uphill task in convincing African football authorities that it has or can put all necessary infrastructure and resources in place for a befitting continental show.
Now what are the plans Nigeria must put in place to land AFCON hosting right after more than two decades break?
It is no more news that insecurity is the major issue facing Nigeria at the moment. The problem appears to be more pronounced in one region of the country but it has soon engulfed the entire country with tales of kidnapping, banditry and terrorism rife.
Nigeria is ranked the second most terrorised country in the world according to the data by Jihad Analytics. The country recorded 305 terrorist attacks in the first half of 2022. Surprisingly, countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia are below Nigeria in the ranking.
The issue of terrorism came into prominence in 2009 after the death of Boko Haram founder Mohammad Yusuf in the custody of the Nigeria Police Force in the same year.
The Jihadists hage gone on to launch several deadly attacks, mostly in the northeastern part of the country, sacking millions from their homes and causing deaths in hundreds of thousands.
Lately, banditry by marauding gunmen have enveloped vast areas of North-West and North-Central, even spreading southwards to worsen separatist agitations and farmer-herder crisis in the South.
The Nigerian government and the Nigeria Football Federation must work tirelessly to improve the security situation in the country to convince our would be visitors.
CAF takes security of players, officials and travelling fans paramount and except there are cocksure guarantees that Nigeria can eradicate it’s hydra-headed insecurities in record time, there’s no magic to make CAF concede the hosting right to the land of the Super Eagles.
2. Stadium and training facilities
Nigeria last hosted an international football tournament in 2009- The FIFA Under-17 World. Group matches were hosted in stadiums across eight cities around the country namely: Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Ijebu-Ode, Kano, Calabar, Kaduna, Bauchi.
The stadiums were prepared to a good taste to host the world. Some said the country’s poor maintenance culture would make it hard to expect such venues and facilities would be suitable for an international tournament 13 years later.
For a country to be capable of hosting the Africa Cup of Nations, such a nation must be able to boast of six international standard stadiums across various cities.
Such proposed stadiums must be fitted with 21st-century state-of-the-art facilities, including air conditioning, CAF-certified press briefing rooms, dressing rooms, media tribute, VIP sections, media zones and quality pitches.
Although Nigeria can boast of having more than a dozen stadiums, only a few of those are actually up to the CAF standard. The evidence can be seen when Nigeria clubs would rather stage continental matches away from their traditional home grounds due to the failure of those stadiums to meet up with CAF standards.
One major reason Nigerian stadiums are usually not approved for continental matches is poor management of those facilities, especially the ones controlled by the Nigerian government.
Big stadiums like the MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja and the Teslim Balogun National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, are not properly maintained.
MKO Abiola Stadium was left to rot for years before The Dangote Group of Companies came to the rescue in 2021 and renovated it for $360 million under the Adopt-a-Pitch Initiative. It has since become the home of the Nigeria national teams.
But the same story cannot be told about the fate of the national stadium in Surulere, Lagos. It has been under construction for months now at a snail speed. The sandy pitch is only good for Sunday football while the decaying stands remain an eyesore.
So, for Nigeria to be ready for AFCON 2025, major renovation and upgrading jobs need to commence in earnest in relatively peaceful cities around the nation.
As it stands only the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja, and Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Akwa Ibom may qualify for CAF standards for AFCON while others like Lekan Salami Stadium in Ibadan, newly renovated by the Oyo State government and the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt might need upgrading to meet merit.
Training pitches for teams are also quite essential and must be provided for along with large stadiums.
3. Hotel and accommodation
According to doingbusiness.fr – as of 2013, Nigeria has 1,700 registered hotels, with more than 20,000 rooms and with an 85 per cent occupancy rate. The country is only behind Morocco in hotel developments in Africa.
Nigeria can boast of thousands of hotels but the majority of those are below the standards required for international tournaments.
For the calibre of high end officials, players and fans that would visit the country during the competition, topnotch accommodation is non-negotiable.
The fans are the heart of football. Their absence was felt at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when leagues across the globe restarted without fans in attendance.
CAF also considers the welfare of the fans when granting hosting rights for competitions and Nigeria must successfully lay out her fans accommodation capacity to win the hosting bid.
Most football fans might have witnessed or heard of players’ death or near-death experiences during football matches, most of which occurred as a result of health complications.
So, football organising bodies across the globe have taken it upon themselves to minimise the probability of the worst happening while playing football as much as possible and have made it mandatory for world-class hospitals fitted with standard equipment to be closer to the stadiums where competitions are ongoing as much as possible in case of any medical emergencies.
The issue is a major one Nigeria must tackle before any deliberation about hosting an AFCON tournament can be entertained.
For a country whose leaders have scant belief in its healthcare asset and travel abroad even for the slightest medical need, only a spirited commitment can sway reservations for its medical preparedness for the African tourney.
At least one ultra-modern health facility must be close to the stadium that will host an AFCON match across the designated locations.
5. Travel and tourism
There are five functional international airports in Nigeria located in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu. But in reality, only the Lagos and Abuja international airports can pass for the standards required for a prospective host nation. Other airports need serious upgrades to accommodate voluminous human traffic that AFCON might attract.
According to worlddata.info, about five million people visited Nigeria in 2016, ranking 35th in the world in absolute terms but these numbers tend to increase when a country is hosting an international football tournament.
This gives an idea of the inflow that could be expected if Nigeria wins the 2025 hosting bid.
Football organising bodies and even host nation’s do not delight in empty football stadiums during tournaments, hence emphasis are placed on filling the arena. But a lot of logistics go into this and it hangs substantially on the host nation’s efficiency with transport and commuterdom.
Tourist attractions are a good excuse to draw football fans into a country during tournaments and Nigeria would do well to update and upgrade its vastly rich tourist assets to encourage travellers.
A good linkage between football venues and tourist sites must be worked up as a side attraction.
The administration of the Amaju Pinnick ended on September 30 when the congress met in Benin to host the NFF general congress but time will determine if the new administration of Ibrahim Gusau will continue with the AFCON hosting project.
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