The Liberia Football Association (LFA) through its Commercialization Program has directed most of its resources and focused its attention to the development of the National Team, the Lone Star. This has served as a dis-incentive for the growth and development of the local football league. Throughout the sporting history of Liberia, the country has participated in the African Cup of Nations finals on two occasions, South Africa 1996, and Mali 2002 without being able to advance beyond the first round of both competitions. Despite our poor performance over the period, hosting the African Cup of Nations could challenge and pressurize the government of Liberia, through the Ministry Of Youth and Sports, national sporting associations and federation, county authorities, development partners, the private sector and local communities to work together to create an environment for the emergence of elite footballers, and achieve national integration and peaceful co-existence, economic growth, and infrastructure development.
Brief History of the African Cup of Nations
The African cup of Nations (AFCON) is the planet’s third biggest football tournament, behind the World Cup and the European Championships. The Africa Cup of Nations, also referred to as the African Nations Cup, officially CAN (French for Coupe d’Afrique des Nations), is the main international association football competition in Africa. It is sanctioned by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and was first held in 1957. Since 1968, it has been held every two years. The title holders at the time of a FIFA Confederations Cup qualify for that competition. In 1957 there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. South Africa were originally scheduled to compete, but were disqualified due to the apartheid policies of the government then in power. Since then, the tournament has grown greatly, making it necessary to hold a qualifying tournament. The number of participants in the final tournament reached 16 in 1998 (16 teams were to compete in 1996 but Nigeria withdrew, reducing the field to 15), and since then, the format has been unchanged, with the sixteen teams being drawn into four groups of four teams each, with the top two teams of each group advancing to a “knock-out” stage. Egypt is the most successful nation in the cup’s history, winning the tournament a record seven times (including when Egypt was known as the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1971). Ghana and Cameroon have won four titles each. Three different trophies have been awarded during the tournament’s history, with Ghana and Cameroon winning the first two versions to keep after each of them won a tournament three times. The current trophy was first awarded in 2002 and with Egypt winning it indefinitely after winning their unprecedented third consecutive title in 2010. As of 2013, the tournament will switch to being held in odd-numbered years so that it does not clash with the FIFA World Cup.
Why should Liberia bid to host the African Cup of Nations?
Since the 1979’s six (6) nations football tournament held at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia and the Zone III tournament held at the SKD Sports complex in the late 1980s, Liberia has never hosted any major international tournament. The Lone Stars of Liberia were successful winners of those tournaments. This led to the emergence of new stars including George Manneh Oppong Weah, James Salinsa Debah, and Kelvin Sobwe, etc. on the Liberian football scene and the beginning of the exodus of Liberian players to foreign countries. The construction of the SKD Sports Complex also led to the promotion of local football talents. Football tacticians and stakeholders believe that hosting a major international football tournament will enhance th
e growth and development of football in Liberia, enable Liberia to develop a comprehensive football program to enable the National Team (Lone Star) to be adequately prepared as host to compete, and develop a lasting football infrastructure. Therefore, the need for Liberia to bid and host the African Cup of Nations in 2016/2017 cannot be overemphasized. This will exalt pressure on all stakeholders involved (government, development partners, football stakeholders, and the entire population) to develop a comprehensive football program, construct the required infrastructure, and deliver a successful Cup of Nations.
Specific benefits for hosting the African Cup of Nations
According to African football expert Mark Gleeson, who has been to every tournament since1992, CAF’s decision to take the tournament to new territories has successfully enhance and promoted the development of the game on the continent. “When you award AFCON to places like Burkina Faso, Mali, Angola or Gabon, you find that coffers for sporting infrastructure that would be normally difficult to open suddenly emerge and you’re leaving a legacy of football
infrastructure,”. This means if Liberia is selected to host such prestigious event, the Government and her development partners will ensure that modern state of the art facilities are constructed for successful hosting of such an event. Selection of Liberia will also underline the Confederation of African Football (CAF) policy to use the tournament as an investment tool, hoping to drive tourism and business long after the soccer extravaganza has gone. To be continued in the next edition.
Recommendation by Timothy Al Paulus, BBA, MA- Former Vice President for Operations, Monrovia Black Stars Football Club, Senior Liberian Football Analyst