2021 Africa Cup of Nations: Caf still prioritising January start

By Piers Edwards & Adebola AdebanjoBBC Sport Africa
The Africa Cup of Nations trophy
Caf is still prioritising a January start for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) is still prioritising a January start for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, despite ongoing uncertainty about the continent's football because of coronavirus.

Unclear when many competitions will resume across the continent, where only a handful of leagues are operating, the tournament in Cameroon is shrouded in doubt.

Caf itself has yet to confirm a restart date for any of its own tournaments amidst the pandemic, with Cameroon the sixth worst-affected country in Africa with nearly 10,000 reported cases.

Four of the six rounds of Nations Cup qualifying have still to take place.

"The Africa Cup of Nations is still planned for Cameroon from 10 January to 8 February 2021," Caf's competitions director Samson Adamu told BBC Sport Africa.

"That is subject to change as the Nations Cup is still being assessed. The final decision is to be taken by the Executive Committee soon."

BBC Sport Africa understands the Executive Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 30 June.

Last week Caf's Acting Secretary General Abdel Bah told Cameroon media that 'hosting the Nations Cup next January remains Caf's number one priorityexternal-link amid considerations.'

Yet if qualifying does not take place in the international windows in October and November (playing two rounds each month), staging the expanded 24-team tournament in seven months' time is unlikely to happen.

Rounds three and four of qualifying should have been played in March, with the penultimate round in early June and the final round between 31 August-8 September.

All these dates have been cancelled though because of the coronavirus, whose true impact on Africa is unclear because of a testing shortage in many countries.

''We no longer include September in the strategies because it will be quite complicated to have the teams travel from one country to another as early as September," Bah told Cameroon's Radio Sport Info.

"We remain very attentive to the development of the health crisis. If we cannot catch up with Nations Cup qualifying in October and November, we'll need to think of another plan."

Should the Nations Cup be moved, it would be the third time the tournament has changed date - after its original January/February 2021 date was rescheduled for June/July 2021 after Caf finally chose against playing in the middle of the European season.

Earlier this year, Caf moved the tournament back to January/February, which it said was because of Cameroon's climatic conditions while others pointed to a timing clash with the Club World Cup.

That Fifa tournament has now been moved back to 2022, which is when Caf might schedule the Nations Cup as 2021 fills up with delayed 2020 competitions such as the Olympics and European and South American championships.

"As everyone knows, playing in June/July in Cameroon is difficult because of the weather conditions," said Bah.

"There is already a lot of competition with the Euros and Copa America, so the best time to postpone the Nations Cup would be to January 2022."

Women's Nations Cup at risk?

The Confederation of African Football's headquarters in Egypt
Caf says it is working 'fastidiously' to enable the return of continental African football

Bah explained that some "competitions will be difficult to reschedule", with the Women's Africa Cup of Nations among those most at risk.

The expanded 12-team tournament was originally scheduled to kick off in November, but so far not one of the 36 entered teams has played a qualifier - while Caf is still to have a host nation after original hosts Congo withdrew.

Caf is also undecided over the scheduling for major competitions such as the 2020 Africa Nations Championship (Chan) and 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

The Chan was set to have taken place in April, while the World Cup qualifiers had been scheduled to start in October, a month when the Nations Cup qualifying is now set to take precedence.

One of the earliest tournaments Caf could restart is its African club competition, with the return of the Champions League and Confederation Cup mooted for as early as July or, perhaps more likely, September.