Last week, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced the hosts for the 2025 and 2027 African Cup of Nations. Morocco won the right to host the 2025 tournament, while the triumvirate of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda will host the 2027 edition. Meanwhile, the 2023 edition of the biennial competition, was originally meant to happen in June/July of this year in Côte d’Ivoire but was postponed to January 2024 to avoid adverse weather conditions brought on by the host nation’s rainy season.
This was an unpopular decision in some quarters, especially in Europe’s Top Five leagues which have long complained about key African players being unavailable at a pivotal stage of the football season. Last week, the footballing world was left puzzled when Italian club Napoli uploaded videos to TikTok mocking their star Nigerian striker, Victor Osimhen. Speculation ran wild, and tellingly, one popular explanation was that Napoli’s president Aurelio De Laurentiis was trying to force Osimhen out of the club, due to his expected absence given AFCON duty (Osimhen missed out on the 2021 tournament, and the Super Eagles are strong favorites for next year’s contest). In 2022, De Laurentiis controversially said Napoli wouldn’t sign African players unless they backed out of AFCON.
Joining us on the podcast to discuss the politics and spectacle of AFCON, is football journalist Maher Mezahi. What can we expect from the tournament in 2024? And what political motives are behind the successful 2025 and 2027 bids, especially with Morocco outbidding Algeria, with both countries resorting to sports diplomacy in their geopolitical rivalry? Notwithstanding the constant consternation from Europe, why is AFCON a tournament that African players treasure above all?
Maher Mezahi is an independent football journalist based in Algiers. He covers North African football extensively, and his work has been published in the international media including the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, ESPN FC, and Al Jazeera English.