Johannesburg – After an opening week bereft of captivating football, characterised by poor officiating and largely shunned by fans, it is clear the African Nations Championship has some way to go before it can attain international status.
The display we’ve seen since the tournament kicked off last weekend suggests Fifa may have rushed their decision to recognise this year’s Chan as an ‘A’ competition, where caps are awarded and results influence the world rankings. This has been anything but an A-grade tourney.
To be honest, some of us have really tried hard to treat it like a normal tournament, watching almost every game, only for the oh-so boring football to send us reaching for the remote control to switch to something else.
Perhaps we are guilty of over-expectation, for we knew before the tournament kicked off that it is strictly for Africa’s local-based players, and beyond Bafana Bafana, not one of the teams in the competition brought along a recognisable team.
Not many of these teams can claim to have spent hours viewing video footage of their opponents prior to the start of the tournament – because such footage probably doesn’t exist.
But this is the point of Chan, and it should not be condemned for not coming any closer to the star-studded Africa Cup of Nations, which, by comparison, attracts hundreds of media and draws millions in TV audiences globally.
Chan, though, cannot continue in the languid manner we’ve seen in the past week. For it to improve and become a money-spinning competition deserving of an A-rating, it will have to undergo a serious transformation.
First the referees: Some of the decisions this week suggest organisers went about asking people around shebeens and pubs if they could blow a whistle and then parachuted them in to officiate in the tournament.
It has been so embarrassing that noticeably, TV producers have at times appeared to have been told not to replay those dodgy moments – such as the one on Wednesday when Nigeria were awarded a penalty that should not have been against Mozambique.
Bafana, too, have benefited from dodgy refereeing, awarded two contentious penalties in their opening matches, while the wonderfully named Mal Souley Mohamed, the Cameroonian referee of their match against Mali in midweek, chose to overlook a blatant penalty against South Africa.
While such refereeing mishaps are seen even on the biggest of stages – think the last World Cup when England were denied a clear goal against Germany in Mangaung – the many we’ve seen in Chan thus far are cause for concern.
Most disconcerting is the fact that Caf have yet to take any action – or even issue a mild rebuke – against an errant ref, in contrast to last year’s Afcon when some match officials were sent home for blatant errors. Such a blasé attitude will not send sponsors rushing to back this tournament, and instead will increase suspicions that the organisers themselves do not really care.
But what would really bring about drastic improvement to Chan is the standard of football. The organisers should overhaul the criteria and merely restricting it to local-based players is not sufficient.
Caf should consider imposing an age restriction as well, perhaps, say, those over 26 should be ineligible. Most teams – such as Nigeria, Uganda and Morocco – have voluntarily decided to use this year’s Chan to try out fringe players who’ve never played international football before. But the sight of a hopelessly shapeless Daniel Cousin, 36, who doesn’t even have a club team, running out for Gabon the other day made a mockery of claims that this tournament is for “development” purposes. It can’t be when some teams have selected 30-year-olds whose sole aim is to win at all costs.
Caf will point out that they already have Youth Championships for Under-17s and Under-20s, but the fact is that there’s nothing after that, with the next level being that of the Olympics and senior teams.
It’s all good and well to see teams who have insufficient quality to qualify for the Nations Cup – such as Mauritania and Burundi – taking part in an international tournament. But when the first week of such a competition produces sub-standard football and sub-standard refereeing, it will not miraculously become A-grade.