The Confederation of African Football unanimously decided in 2017 that Ethiopia would host the CHAN (African Nations Championship) tournament, set to take place in two years. Although Ethiopia is investing a considerable amount of money in the construction of stadiums, insiders indicate that more work is needed to meet the requirements set by the CAF and to have the stadiums ready by 2020. EBR adjunct writer Abiy Wondifraw looks into the amount of headway Ethiopia has made in regards to this matter, and tries to decipher whether or not the outlook for CHAN Ethiopia, is good.
When Juneidi Basha, president of the Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF), arrived at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa for the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour announcement ceremony on February 7 2018, everything in the hall was about football’s most coveted prize. When he took the stage however, the man who heads the country’s football administrative body focused on another topic. Standing on a platform that was set up to announce that the World Cup trophy was coming, a jubilant Juneidi declared, “the CHAN is coming.”
Though the news only dominated the media after the closing ceremony of the 2018 tournament in Casablanca, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had handed Ethiopia the chance to host the 2020 CHAN (African Nations Championship), long before EEF president officially received the mantle in Morocco.
Introduced in 2009, CHAN is the second rated football tournament in Africa. The biennial competition was designed to give locally based players a chance to shine on the international stage, because most of the teams that qualify for the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) tend to favor familiar names from European leagues. During this tournament however, sixteen qualifying teams bring along players who normally play in domestic leagues.
“We deserve to host events like CHAN, and even Afcon. Ethiopia has always had a place in Africa’s football history. We won the Cup of Nations and hosted that same tournament. If we did it with lesser infrastructure in the past, why wouldn’t we be able to do it now?” asks Juneidi. “We have much more capacity this time.”
Though Ethiopia has over half a dozen new stadiums spread out across the country, most are still under construction. In fact, new football venues are popping up in almost every large city in Ethiopia. Bahir Dar Stadium, for instance, seats 60,000 spectators while Hawassa Stadium can accommodate 45,000. The Mohammed Hussein Ali Al-Amoudi Stadium in Woldiya holds a little over 25,000 spectators. A 60,000-seat stadium in Addis Ababa is close to completion; and the Mekele, Abebe Bikila, Dire Dawa and the old Addis Ababa stadiums are available. Stadiums currently under construction in Nekemte and Adama in the states of Oromia and Gambela, are to be completed soon.
According to the CAF guidelines, at least four stadiums are required for a given country to host CHAN. Ethiopia, a country that has invested significant amounts of money in the construction of stadiums, easily fulfils this requirement. However, these stadiums need specialized lighting systems, at least four changing rooms, referee’s rooms, media facilities, and rooms for anti-doping tests.
Unfortunately at this time, Ethiopia’s available stadiums only meet some of these requirements. As a result, the country will need to spend money to undertake renovation works in these stadiums in order to fulfill CAF’s requirements.
Requirements like the existence of proper transportation services, and quality accommodations, disqualify some of the stadiums from hosting the tournament. The stadium in Woldiya cannot be used because there is no air transport service to and from the town.
The overall financial requirement to host CHAN might reach USD50 million, according to an insider. He supports the financial projection by citing the USD24 million Rwanda invested to host CHAN two years ago.
Failing to meet the standards set by the CAF can result in losing host status. In fact, lack of preparation led to Kenya being forced to hand over 2018 CHAN hosting privileges to Morocco.
Tesfaye Yigezu, state minister for Youth and Sport stresses that the country is not building new stadiums. “We might need to finish those that are under construction. We know the stadiums in Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa and Hawassa have been accepted by CAF. We have some other stadiums that require some finishing work.”
But with all the financial requirements and standards-related issues to be raised on the completed and soon-to-be-completed stadiums, those who closely observe the situation seem worried about Ethiopia’s capacity to organize such an event.
“We do not know whether the bid document submitted by Ethiopia clearly showed that we meet most of the conditions required to host the event,” says a prominent expert in event organizing business who has had experience with similar events in the past. “The EFF does not have a clear execution plan to begin the work, and hasn’t decided if there are tasks to be outsourced to partners. We do not know the potential host cities. This makes it difficult evaluate arrangements other than the stadium. We do not know the projected cost of the tournament. And we have less than 20 months to do it.”
Tesfaye did not deny the fact that there is still no concrete plan. “We need to sit down with stakeholders to plan everything: the work to be done, the budget, and also to decide who takes on what responsibility.”
However, Juneidi says hosting this kind of tournament can be a great opportunity, if the country does it well. “We have the stadiums. A well thought out selection of towns with better transportation and hospitality will make it easier. We have the potential to make a lot of revenue from spectator packed stadiums. TV rights revenue can be the other source of offsetting the expenses. Money pours into the host cities, and businesses. Beyond all this, hosting tournaments at this level can upgrade the country’s transport, telecommunications, energy, and the entire hospitality sector.”
Given that the government has shown commitment to CHAN 2020, many suspect that the move is being driven by current EFF leaders, in an attempt to influence the upcoming election.
“Stability matters. Why do companies suffer from staff turnover? Because when you replace people, you harm the work flow. Transitions cost you the time and the work quality. I hope the general assembly will consider this on election day,” says Juneidi.
The CAF inspection team will arrive in Ethiopia in the next few months to evaluate whether talk is turning to action. If the progress is not convincing, the continental football governing body might withdraw Ethiopia’s hosting rights, and give the privilege to another country.
The much anticipated EFF presidential election (which was originally scheduled for October), is still pending. If Juneidi fails to win the vote for a second term, he will not be in office to see the event he brought home, through. Some doubt the readiness of the EFF to meet its objectives while dealing with the election. Others question the country’s ability to focus on CHAN while political instability is ongoing.
6th Year . March 16 – April 15 2018 . No.59