NIAS Africa Studies

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NIAS Africa Studies
Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON): Five Questions

  Jerry Franklin A

What is the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON)?
The Africa Cup of Nations, commonly known as AFCON, is a prominent continental football tournament showcasing the best of African football since 1957. The AFCON started with three countries participating- Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan. As of 2024, there are 52 countries involved in the qualifiers with 24 countries left to play in the main competition. The tournament is organised by the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) and is held every two years in January and February as these months usually have better weather conditions and also to avoid clashes of matches with the FIFA World Cup. 

There are currently 54 teams that are eligible to participate in the AFCON tournament as they are members of FIFA's Confederation for African Football (CAF). The tournament qualifiers are held in the calendar year preceding the actual tournament. For instance, the qualifiers for the 2024 tournament were held in 2023, and that is why the current tournament is referred to as AFCON 2023, despite starting in January 2024. During the qualifiers, the 24 teams are divided into six groups of four teams each. The top two teams from each group advance to the next round, along with the four best-ranked third-placed teams. The final 16 teams then progress to the knockout rounds, followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the AFCON final.

Much like the European Football Leagues and Copa America, AFCON brings together the top teams from all over the African continent to play against one another. One of the most striking features of AFCON is its diversity, representing Africa's unique and rich cultures. 

Why AFCON is the most anticipated National Football League in Africa?
The 34th edition of AFCON is from 13 January to 11 February 2024, in the host country, Cote d’Ivoire. The country is hosting the AFCON for the second time. Despite facing several issues, AFCON continues to be a highly-anticipated league for millions of football fans in Africa. Legendary players such as Didier Drogba, Laurent Poko, and Samuel Eto’o have graced the tournament. It has garnered a vast and ever-increasing viewership. In 2019, it surpassed 800 million viewers, demonstrating its immense popularity. 

Additionally, Morocco made history in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 by advancing to the semi-finals, marking a significant achievement for African football. The extraordinary performance of Morocco in the World Cup turned the attention of the world toward African football teams. This is much evident as over 20 global broadcasters have agreed to air the AFCON 2023 tournament. These broadcasters include popular sports media networks such as Sky in the UK, Ziggo in the Netherlands, SportItalia in Italy, Fancode in India, Band TV in Brazil, and the La Liga+ streaming service in Spain. The South African Broadcasting Corporation will air the event in South Africa, while StarTimes will cover it throughout sub-Saharan Africa. AFCON is being broadcast in approximately 180 countries around the world.

A major reason behind the anticipation is the involvement of current global football stars like Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Hala, Mendy, Riyad Mahrez, Nicolas Pepe, and Victor Osimhenand in AFCON. These players have a tremendous fanbase worldwide and they are representing their national team to win the prestigious AFCON Cup. 

What are the economic, social, and cultural dimensions of AFCON?
Economically, AFCON has a significant impact, particularly on the host country. African countries compete for the opportunity to host the AFCON. Hosting AFCON has several economic benefits like infrastructure upgrades and new social facilities. It enhances the economies of the host countries, as the influx of visitors boosts the local economy. Previously, Egypt generated an estimated revenue of USD 83 million by hosting AFCON in 2019, comparable to the amount produced by other host countries such as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea previously. The 2019 tournament drew football fans from across the continent with an average attendance of 18,136 per match. This boosted revenue from tourism, hospitality, and investments in surrounding communities. The winner of the TotalEnergies AFCON Cote d’Ivoire 2023 tournament will receive an amount of USD seven million. The Runner-up will be given an amount of USD four million. Both teams who reach the Semi-finals will be granted USD 2.5 million each, and the four teams who make it to the Quarter-finals will receive USD 1.3 million each. Each of the 24 participant countries would earn at least USD 600,000 from the event. The amount is crucial to encourage and motivate football players in the continent.

Socially, AFCON addressed major issues in Africa throughout the years. For instance, during its inaugural year in 1957, South Africa was supposed to participate as the fourth team. However, due to their discriminatory policy of only allowing white players on their team, AFCON took a stand against the Apartheid regime in the country, resulting in South Africa being banned from the tournament. They were again banned for ten years during the 1980s and only allowed to participate after the end of the Apartheid era. Other issues such as insurgencies, military coups, authoritarian shifts and civil wars have also been highlighted by AFCON.

Culturally, AFCON serves as a beacon that represents and celebrates the diverse cultures of African countries on a large scale. AFCON unites Africa's population for a month to celebrate the finest football players on the continent. With each edition of AFCON, new stars emerge. AFCON helps to inspire a new generation of young players and fans and to create a lasting legacy for African football.

How does the dominance of the European Football League affect AFCON?
AFCON has been facing several challenges such as tournament scheduling, the release of African players from European football clubs, lack of respect, and a demand for the cancellation of the tournament. The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), one of the biggest football tournaments in the world, has often been overlooked and disrespected by European football clubs, fans, and certain media outlets. This is primarily because AFCON includes about 40 Premier League players and 58 Ligue 1 African players, which is seven per cent and ten per cent of the Premium and French football league players respectively. Many European clubs are reluctant to let their players participate mid-season, discouraging their involvement in AFCON. Many European clubs dislike AFCON as they lose their star players for a month. Hence, European leagues play a significant role in preventing the global reach of AFCON.

How do corruption and other related factors affect the image of AFCON?
Corruption and scandal are the terms often used to describe AFCON. There were several accusations of bribery, foul play, and match-fixing in previous tournaments that undermined the integrity of AFCON. This severely affected the image of AFCON and hindered the global reach that it truly deserves. The image of a corrupt tournament indirectly prevents young players from getting the spotlight and opportunities they deserve to succeed in football. As a result, some African players choose to represent other countries they are eligible for rather than representing their own country.

About the author
Jerry Franklin A is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai.

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