International football fans who enjoy the excitement of the Africa Cup of Nations are in for a treat. Ahmad Ahmad, the new president of the Confederation of African Football, has announced a significant expansion of the Cup of Nations, which is expected to undergo a few changes as soon as approval is granted by the ruling members at a symposium in Morocco. With the blessing of FIFA president Gianni Infantino, an official who has been very supportive of further development of African football, future Africa Cup of Nations will feature a competition between 24 national teams, and up to four of them will be from other confederations.
The practice of inviting national teams from outside of the Continent is a new development for Africa, but this has been successfully practiced in the Americas for decades. In the past, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL have sent teams to the Copa America and Gold Cup as guests of honor. Aside from the experience and camaraderie, fierce competition arises when national teams from other confederations start to dominate the tournaments where they have been invited, forcing the local teams to do their best and keep the cup from going abroad. The national teams of Qatar and the United States are already being considered as guests, but teams from the European and Asian confederations will also be welcomed at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
A more immediate change to the tournament will be the timing, which will now take place between June and July; this will give some breathing room to top European clubs that tend to suffer when their African players are capped for AFCON duty. The tournament will still be held every two years, but the logistics and the conditions on the pitch will be impacted by the hot and humid climates of potential host nations. Preliminary estimates suggest that the AFCON expansion plan would triple revenues; television broadcasters such as ESPN, SKY and Eurosport were pleased by ratings during the most recent AFCON in Gabon, which unfolded smoothly despite political instability in the country.
The larger scale of 24-team AFCON is a concern for Joseph Bell, a former goalkeeper for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. At the symposium, Bell mentioned that not many African nations will be able to handle hosting duties, and he would not like to see a situation such as the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is perennially hosted by the United States. Other issues being discussed at the symposium include devoting greater attention to youth football development beyond trying to sell young stars to top European clubs. FIFA president Infantino believes that football can greatly contribute towards national development, which is something that many African nations can certainly benefit from.