Radical changes to Nations Cup await rubber-stamping

Caf symposium
The two-day symposium in Rabat has been looking at the future of football in Africa.

Dramatic changes to Africa's top competition now await rubber-stamping by the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) after recommendations made at a conference in Morocco on Wednesday.

The showpiece Africa Cup of Nations finals is set to be expanded and its contentious timing changed, but its frequency will remain every two years.

The tournament is likely to be moved to June and July, instead of January and February, and will increase from 16 to 24 teams.

The two annual club competitions - the African Champions League and African Confederation Cup - are likely to run from August to May rather than inside a calendar year, as has been the case for decades.

Changes to refereeing structures, coaching standards and medical preparedness were also recommended.

Caf's executive committee meets in Rabat on Thursday and is expected to formalise all the major recommendations.

"From a sporting perspective, it will allow more opportunity for footballers across the continent," said Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick.

The insistence the Nations Cup should stay in January, which has often infuriated European clubs as they lose their African players during the season, could soon be a thing of the past.

But Africa's flagship sporting event will still be played every two years as the tournament is a leading source of revenue for Caf, which would lose half of that money should the finals be played every four years, as some proposed.

There was no opposition to the change of the timing of the finals, which will please African players based at European clubs, who are regularly involved in a club-versus-country row every two years.

The increase in the number of finalists is an attempt to increase marketing and TV revenue, talking a leaf out of the book of Uefa whose European Championship increased in size in 2016.

"It will increase revenue for Caf and we can triple our income," added Pinnick. "It will also force more infrastructure development."

The symposium also recommended that requirements for hosting the Nations Cup must be increased, particularly around the issue of pitches and hotels, whose poor quality has drawn heavy criticism at recent finals.

Mamelodi Sundowns
Mamelodi Sundowns won the 2016 African Champions League

This year's expansion of the number of clubs in the Champions League and Confederation Cup has meant the top teams in Africa have been forced to play group matches between May and July.

Usually, many of these sides would be enjoying end-of-season holidays prior to preparing for a new campaign.

The criticism of the dates has led to the recommendation that the Champions League and Confederation Cup will run from August to May - possibly as early as next year.

Similar to the European Champions League, the group phase would be finished by the end of year to allow the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals to be completed by May.

Analysis

John Bennett, Football reporter, BBC World Service

I've spoken to many African footballers who feel having the Africa Cup of Nations in January has damaged their careers in European football.

A Bundesliga player once told me his manager put pressure on him not go and after coming back from the tournament he never regained his place in the team.

A Serie A star said it takes weeks to recover from the exhaustion of playing in the intense Nations Cup and it led to him losing form.

And others have told me it puts clubs off signing them, when they know they'll miss six weeks of the season.

So that's why this news will be welcomed by the vast majority of the players. Particularly the big names. And of course Premier League managers will be delighted. 26 players from the English top flight went to the last Nations Cup.

The huge negative is the weather. It'll be almost impossible for some countries in Africa to host the tournament because extremely hot and wet conditions in June will not be suitable for football.

Some will also be angry with the sense that African football is being dictated to by European football.

Increasing the tournament to 24 teams is also controversial.

Yes it allows more teams to qualify and will increase income but will the quality be diluted? And how many nations will have the infrastructure to host eight more teams?

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