Africa needs har­monised foot­ball calendar

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MAZOLA MOLEFE

CAF pres­i­dent Ah­mad Ah­mad has left the door ajar for the pos­si­bil­ity of all African leagues op­er­at­ing un­der a uni­fied calendar af­ter it was ev­i­dent yet again fol­low­ing the weekend’s Cham­pi­ons League and Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup round of matches that some re­gions are dis­ad­van­taged by the current set-up.

Dur­ing his tour of the SA Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion premises yes­ter­day, Ah­mad, who suc­ceeded Issa Hay­a­tou as the CAF pres­i­dent in March, ac­knowl­edged that hav­ing the var­i­ous coun­tries sched­ule their leagues to run from Jan­uary to Novem­ber while oth­ers use the Euro­pean for­mat of Au­gust to May had in­creas­ingly be­come a con­tentious de­bate.

“It’s the right ques­tion to ask on whether we should har­monise the pro­gramme,” he told jour­nal­ists. “We have a sym­po­sium next month and there we have not only in­vited the heads of the foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tions, but also pres­i­dents of the dif­fer­ent clubs. We have in­vited all the stake­hold­ers be­cause we re­ally need to think about this and come up with a bet­ter so­lu­tion.”

The con­trast­ing calendar has not only been an is­sue with re­gards to club com­pe­ti­tions, but when it comes to in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments such as the re­gional COSAFA Cup, which con­cluded in Rusten­burg on Sun­day with Zim­babwe be­ing crowned win­ners fol­low­ing their 3-1 thrash­ing of Zam­bia, as well as the African Na­tions Cham­pi­onship, more com­monly known as CHAN, which only al­lows na­tional team coaches to se­lect play­ers from their re­spec­tive do­mes­tic leagues.

Both com­pe­ti­tions do not fall on Fifa dates, mean­ing clubs have the right to with­hold play­ers. The COSAFA Cup failed to at­tract de­cent crowds, even when home side Bafana Bafana – with a team made up of lit­tle known play­ers from the Premier League and Na­tional First Divi­sion – played.

“But there is no sci­en­tific re­search telling us we should scrap these tour­na­ments,” said Ah­mad. “The CHAN is a legacy left be­hind by my pre­de­ces­sor and we should fight to pre­serve it. If any­thing, we need to work on im­prov­ing them go­ing for­ward. We need a study that will al­low us to do that with these two com­pe­ti­tions. Our idea re­ally is to talk to Fifa and re­in­force the com­pe­ti­tion in the zones be­cause the con­ti­nent is so vast that the only way to im­prove the com­pe­ti­tion is within its zone.”

The CHAN tour­na­ment is likely to be moved to another coun­try with con­fir­ma­tion from Ah­mad that 2018 hosts Kenya are far from ready and their abil­ity to stage the event could be fur­ther de­railed by the coun­try’s gen­eral elec­tions next month.

“At the mo­ment the re­al­ity is that they are not ready. They have asked us to give them un­til the end of Au­gust. But we can still con­firm that the tour­na­ment will take place at the sched­uled date of Jan­uary next year. Our del­e­ga­tion is talk­ing to the (Kenya) gov­ern­ment about an ac­tion plan and has iden­ti­fied ar­eas that need im­prove­ment.”

Bafana play Botswana away on Satur­day in the first leg of their se­cond round qual­i­fier for CHAN, with the re­turn match set to take place at Moru­leng Sta­dium a week later. Stu­art Bax­ter, the na­tional team coach, is ex­pected to pretty much use the same team he picked dur­ing the COSAFA Cup. But there will be sev­eral changes as lo­cal teams re­turn for pre-sea­son ahead of the start of the 2017/18 cam­paign.

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