Egypt submitted a bid to replace Cameroon as host of next year’s African Cup of Nations while South Africa was seriously considering entering the hastily-arranged race to find a new venue for the continent’s top soccer tournament, which kicks off in just six months.
Egypt’s bid, announced by its soccer association on Thursday to meet Friday’s deadline, was a surprise move by a country which wasn’t considered a contender.
South Africa had also submitted a bid, a South African Football Association spokesman said Friday, but the spokesman later retracted his statement saying the soccer body still needed final permission from the government.
SAFA was seeking that permission on Friday, just hours before the deadline to submit — midnight Cairo time.
If South Africa does follow through, it will pit north vs. south in the process to find a new African Cup host.
Tournament organizer the Confederation of African Football gave countries until the end of Friday to submit bids for the 2019 African Cup, which was taken away from Cameroon last month because of poor preparations and a violent insurgency in parts of that country.
CAF wants a new host in place by Dec. 31, with the tournament in June and July looming. Next year’s African championship is the first to be increased from 16 to 24 teams, a factor that placed additional strain on Cameroon. It’s also been moved to the middle of the year, coinciding with the offseason for European leagues. The African Cup was traditionally held in January and February and in the midst of the European season, causing a club vs. country dilemma for many of Africa’s top players.
Egypt has hosted the African Cup four times, its last in 2006. South Africa last hosted five years ago, standing in when Libya couldn’t hold that tournament.
No other countries have said publicly that they are bidding and CAF hasn’t announced any shortlist.
The moves by Egypt and South Africa came after Morocco, once considered the front-runner to replace Cameroon, said this week it wouldn’t put itself forward as a candidate. Morocco had been widely touted as a replacement after it was a candidate to host the 2026 World Cup. It lost out for the World Cup to a joint United States-Mexico-Canada bid.
Egypt said as recently as last month that it would not enter the race and compete with the expected bid from fellow North African nation Morocco. But Morocco’s decision not to bid appears to have led to Egypt’s change of heart.
Egypt is a powerhouse of African soccer, with its national team a record seven-time Cup of Nations winner. An African Cup in Egypt would also provide an intriguing storyline for Egypt striker Mohamed Salah, currently the continent’s best player.
But Egypt’s recent political turmoil might work against the country’s bid. Egypt has seen violence and upheaval ever since the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. The political crisis spilled over onto the soccer field, too, with more than 70 people killed in a riot at a game in the northern city of Port Said in 2012. It was one of world soccer’s worst stadium riots.
Egypt’s bid does have logistical advantages for CAF, though, with the African soccer body based in the Egyptian capital Cairo.
South Africa is considered the country with the best infrastructure in Africa and hosted the continent’s first World Cup in 2010.
The South African Football Association said it had been approached by CAF to bid for 2019, suggesting Africa’s most developed economy is the preferred choice for organizers with its world-class stadiums built for 2010.
African Cup hosting has been a major headache for CAF, with the last four tournaments not played in the country they were initially awarded to. It’s held every two years, not every four like other major soccer tournaments.
South Africa stepped in for war-torn Libya as host in 2013, Equatorial Guinea replaced Morocco in 2015 and Gabon stood in for Libya, which again couldn’t host last year.
This story has been corrected after a spokesman retracted his statement that South Africa had officially submitted a bid.