AFCON 2021: It is high time to show respect to Africa’s biggest football showpiece

The continental tournament has over the years been criticized for its schedule clashing with a critical period of the European club football season.

AFCON 2021

In about a month’s time, the long-awaited 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) will kick off in Cameroon.

One would have almost thought there won’t be any tournament, after the schedule was shifted from summer this year to the traditional and more favorable Harmattan period of January next year. Not forgetting it also looked like Cameroon were not going to host it, having been original hosts in 2019 but it was pushed to 2021 over lack of preparedness and even at that, the country did not still look prepared to host the tournament.

All that has now been put behind and we can finally expect things to kick off on January 9 in Yaounde.

AFCON is Africa’s biggest football showpiece, but it does not get enough global attention for the spectacle itself. Rather it is for its schedule.

For long, the tournament has been criticized for being played in the middle of the European football season and getting to lose some key players will affect a club’s form and fortunes.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been one of the critics and he was brought into the spotlight after Paris-based Nigerian reporter, Babatunde Ojora, accused Klopp for being disrespectful for calling Afcon a “little tournament” even though the ex-Borussia Dortmund manager went on to clarify he was being sarcastic.

That might be sarcasm, but Klopp has not been critical of the Afcon schedule just now. He did so last year when Caf made the decision to revert back from summer to the winter period and called it a “catastrophe”.

It’s not hard to understand why Klopp is aggrieved. He is losing his two best players in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for a month which will impact their Premier League form, and as much as it hurts, the German must deal with the reality and find a way around it.

These players are ready to play for their countries and if that is not enough reason to respect the competition, then what is?

Criticism has to go to the reporter who asked Klopp the question that made him make the “little tournament” remark. The reporter said there was no international break or tournament until March and Klopp corrected him and made mention of Afcon.

How a reporter forgets there is Afcon in January but doesn’t forget the World Cup qualifiers in March says a lot about how the African tournament is viewed and seen outside of the continent.

Former Manchester United and France left-back Patrice Evra – who is of Senegalese descent and was born in Dakar – recently stated that Afcon was not respected because Africans are seen as monkeys.

“You know, but of course, African Cup, we are the monkeys so no one respects this competition,” Evra said on Instagram.

As has already been established, because of the peak rain period which occurs in the summer in the tropics of Africa, it will be impossible to host a summer Afcon. It was possible in 2019 because the host nation Egypt has a desert climate. Not the same for Cameroon and many others deep in the tropics.

There have been constant calls for an adjustment to take Afcon away from the January slot so it favours the European club calendar, but weather patterns cannot be influenced, can they?

Klopp’s claim of sarcasm has to even be questioned when he has previously put it that he will continue to complain about the Afcon schedule so long it remains, clearly acknowledging he moans about it.

“The ‘moaner from Liverpool’ or whatever is again on track. As long as nothing changes I will say it all the time,” the German said.

In another development, the Fifa Club World Cup will also be played from February 3-12, 2022, which clashes with Afcon 2021. The intercontinental club competition is usually held in December, but Fifa never considered Afcon’s own schedule, something Ex-Egypt striker and Afcon winner Mido, was not pleased with.

“Fifa deciding to hold the Club World Cup while Afcon is going on is a sign of disrespect to African football,” Mido said.

“It would not have been the case with the Euros or Copa America.”

We live in a time and era where Africa is not seen in a good light globally because of the many problems it faces. Football has been able to demonstrate that Africa is not how it is often viewed, thanks to how its players are dominating major leagues in Europe.

In this regard, football managers like Klopp, European journalists and even Fifa, should be able to do better at a time when racism is rife, particularly on social media. These attitudes shown towards Afcon can build racist sentiments. Football is trying hard to tackle racism, but what Klopp says about Afcon creates a bad image of the tournament, emboldening those with racist ideologies.

If Klopp as a highly-respected football figure doesn’t change his stance and stop the moaning, Afcon will truly be viewed and taken by many as a “little tournament” or maybe even one for the monkeys.

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Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions.

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Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.

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