Nigeria’s Football Federation President, Amaju Pinnick, has backed his country to host the recently expanded Africa Cup of Nations should they wish to.
Pinnick, who was named President of the Organizing Committee for the Africa Cup of Nations in May, spoke in Lagos on Wednesday night in defense of the expansion of the biennial competition from 16 to 24 teams starting from the next edition in 2019.
Asides the new 24-team format, Africa’s flagship football competition will also be moved from its January/February date to the summer, purportedly to allow top African football stars scattered across various leagues of Europe full participation after series of club vs country rows in recent editions.
Opinions are divided among Africans on the feasibility of the new format and schedule especially as the summer is the core raining period in Africa. But Pinnick insists it is not impossible.
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“It is all about getting the proper infrastructure and that is what CAF will be ensuring. When the Euros was played in Europe, it rained heavily, a game was held up for about 30 minutes.” argued Pinnick on a Television show.
“We are going to do a thorough job during inspection. I am the President of that (AFCON) committee and I have recommended that a facility audit firm be part of the organisation. They will know their reputation is at stake and will ensure the pitches will be ready, hospitality and everything,” he added.
Many of the previous AFCON hosts designated four stadiums for the purpose but that number may be insufficient to stage a 24-nation tournament with six, a more viable number. Again, Pinnick believes many African nations, including Nigeria can guarantee this.
“People are complaining that how many countries can host in Africa, since we are talking about six venues? Some countries have eight venues. Nigeria can host. Same as other countries that have hosted (all categories of) the World Cup.”
Many of the eight stadiums used by Nigeria for the 1999 World Youth Championships have either gone moribund or the playing surfaces converted to artificial surfaces for the Under-17 World Championships which was staged in the country 10 years later.
The mainbowl of the National Stadium, Surulere which hosted the opening and closing events has long been abandoned same as Liberty Stadium in Ibadan. Facilities in Kano, Bauchi, Enugu and Port Harcourt (Yakubu Gowon stadium) now have artificial pitches with Kaduna and Calabar still struggling for maintenance of their natural turfs.