Senior Sports Editor
THE troubled 2021 AFCON finals could be postponed by a year, one-and-half years or even cancelled altogether.
If the tournament is postponed by a year, this well see the current contract of Warriors coach, Zdravko Logarusic, expiring midway during the football showcase.
The other option is to delay the 2021 AFCON finals by 18 months, and this could see the tourney being held after the expiry of Loga’s latest contract.
There is also a possibility of the entire tournament being cancelled.
The latest developments confirm revelations by The Herald, last month, that the Croatian gaffer was likely to spend the first half, of his time in charge of the Warriors, without guiding the senior national football team in any official assignment.
The Croat signed a two-year contract with ZIFA in January this year, as the two back-to-back 2021 AFCON qualifiers against African champions Algeria, loomed large.
However, the two matches, just like the 2020 CHAN finals which had been set for Cameroon last month, were postponed as the world began to feel the huge impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Countries closed their borders, passenger airlines were grounded, except for special circumstances, and sport took a back seat as both the domestic and international controlling bodies halted their programmes.
Loga, who gets US$7 000 a month, recently told this newspaper he didn’t feel comfortable, earning a salary without doing the work he came here to perform, and was desperate for the resumption of international football.
However, the latest signals do not look promising.
Although football has been taking some baby steps to return, with the German Bundesliga leading the way, and the vastly-popular English Premiership set to resume next month, it’s a different story when it comes to the international game.
While the domestic leagues do not have to deal with issues like countries reopening their borders, for foreign teams to fly in, the international matches are quite complex.
A game between Zimbabwe and Algeria, for example, might require players flying into the two countries from England, France, Turkey, Belgium and other places and that is more complex than just holding a domestic league programme.
The latest signals from authorities appear to suggest the 2021 AFCON finals could be postponed by a year, to be held in January 2022, while the 2020 CHAN finals appear to be doomed and could be scrapped.
Radio Monte Carlo of France first reported, on Wednesday, that the 2021 AFCON finals would be postponed to the following year and will still be held in Cameroon.
The French and Arabic media have become reliable sources, in terms of getting what is happening within CAF, and RMC said sources with the leadership of African football had told them it was virtually impossible for the tournament to be held, as scheduled, in January next year.
The 2021 AFCON finals had been scheduled to start on January 9 next year and run until February 6.
“There is almost no chance for the African Cup of Nations 2021 to be held next January,” RMC quoted their sources as telling them on Wednesday.
“The intention is to postpone the competition to be held in January 2022.”
The sources, according to RMC, said the other option was to postpone the tourney by one-and-half years.
“It’s also possible to (have) it in the summer of 2022, because the World Cup will take place in November 2022,” the sources told RMC.
“But we have to study this idea very well so as not to destabilise the African teams participating in the World Cup.”
With four rounds of the 2021 AFCON finals remaining, in addition to the play-offs, the packaged international football programme was likely to make it impossible for the tournament to be held as scheduled in January next year.
Others are even looking at the possibility of the tournament being cancelled altogether.
However, CAF president, Ahmad Ahmad, said it was too early to talk about the cancellation of the tournament, noting that playing the two qualifying rounds for the tourney made it difficult to make an immediate decision on its fate.
Talking to Cameroonian football website, afrikafoot.fr, Ahmad said this wasn’t the time for them to be making decisions on whether the tournament would be held or not.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone unaware and its impact was still being felt around the world.
“There was no plan to deal with the pandemic, which surprised us completely, and (we) did not expect it,” Ahmad said, adding his organisation would have to consult widely, including with the political leadership of the continent, before coming with a decision.
The national federations, like ZIFA, and world football controlling body FIFA, also had to be consulted.
He said the challenges were not about who will host the tournament, which was already in good hands in Cameroon, but how to deal with the complexity of completing the qualifying games.
The fact that most African teams relied on airlines for their movements, to fulfil their matches, and the fact that passenger air travel had virtually been halted, would be a huge challenge.
Emphasis, he said, also needed to be put in the well-being of the footballers and their officials, and bringing together thousands of people, who are involved just to ensure the qualifying matches were played, was not in the interest of these people.
Africa, the CAF president noted, did not have the best of medical facilities but they could not make a prediction on what will happen in the future.
Their priority, said Ahmad, was the health of the players, officials and fans of the game and as long as the situation was not conducive for them to organise matches, they would not gamble to do that.
“In general, we will discuss with the Secretariat and the Member States to determine (the way forward),” Ahmad said. “If this pandemic is eliminated, there will be no problem in completing the various tournaments and qualifying matches.”
The CAF boss said he did not see the pandemic sinking football for good but urged everyone involved in the game on the continent to respect the guidelines from the health authorities to try and stop the spread of the virus and ensure the continent, and the world, could find a way out of this crisis.