Sorry, Mr Klopp, but the Afcon date change is best for African fans
The Confederation of African Football did the right thing by changing the Afcon 2021 dates to January-February, but it should not have had to do so in the first place.
For close watchers of football in Africa, especially of CAF, the decision by the organisation last week to make a hugely significant scheduling change to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations would have come as no surprise.
After all, none of the originally scheduled hosts of the past five tournaments have actually hosted them. If anything, the surprise should have been that the announcement took so long in coming.
Libya, original host of the 2013 edition, was replaced by South Africa; incidentally, that edition also was moved from 2014 as CAF switched to odd years to avoid clashing with the FIFA World Cup every other tournament.
Then, scheduled hosts Morocco baulked at hosting the continent over fears of Ebola, demanding a postponement. CAF refused and installed Equatorial Guinea instead.
Libya, which had traded its 2013 hosting spot for South Africa's in 2017, was then stripped of hosting rights as a result of civil war in that country. Gabon stepped in.
Ahead of the very next tournament, Cameroon was stripped of hosting rights for a multitude of reasons -- including lack of infrastructural readiness. Egypt was named host nation for 2019.
Rights for the 2021 edition were initially awarded to Cote d'Ivoire in 2014. But CAF declared after the Cameroon 2019 snafu -- without first informing the Ivorians -- that Cameroon's hosting had been bumped up. Cote d'Ivoire was thus awarded the 2023 edition.
Obviously, major scheduling and logistical changes at short notice have become a staple of the Africa Cup of Nations.
So it should have come as no surprise when the Cameroonian Football Federation [FECAFOOT] and CAF announced that a decision had been taken to move Afcon 2021 back from June-July to January-February, smack bang in the middle of the European season.
Common sense tells one that the old [now new] dates has led to club-versus-country conundrums for African players, but it never stopped the top stars from showing up to Afcon in the past.
This has not pleased most Premier League managers, Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp in particular, who said in response: "The African Cup of Nations going back to January is, for us, a catastrophe."
He will, assuming they qualify and respond to national call-ups, be without Egypt's Mohamed Salah, Senegal's Sadio Mane, and Guinea's Naby Keita in what will likely be a title defence season.
In tournaments past, players travelled and played for their country in the middle of the season -- when they were in tip-top shape rather than at the end when they were exhausted after a long and grueling campaign, to the benefit of African fans.
Incidentally, next year's Afcon tournament would have clashed with FIFA's shiny new toy, the reformatted Club World Cup, which will now run during those summer months.
The decision to stage the tournament earlier in the year, after just one instance of playing the competition in a "northern hemisphere summer" slot, is in the best interests of African football for another basic reason.
Most of western and central Africa has two major seasons: dry and rainy; with the latter bang in the middle of the European summer.
Those rains provide logistical challenges for the organization of one-off matches, let alone a three-week tournament. The overwhelming majority of stadiums are largely open air, except for the VIP stands, and access control means that fans regularly have to walk long distances to get to entrance gates and then spend time in queues.
On a rainy day, that scenario becomes dangerous. And even when safely ensconced in their seats, torrential downpours can easily lead to stampedes, not to mention the prospect of washed-out games that play havoc with the competition schedule.
Put in that context, the reversal back to January-February was the best possible decision by CAF. However, it does call to question the process that led to the initial change to June-July.
Most Africans know, without the benefit of Cameroon's meteorologists, that the rainy season is a bad time for any sort of planning, especially of open-air events.
So what was the CAF ExCo thinking when it approved the initial change to June-July without taking all of the facts into consideration? Cameroon's weather patterns and the associated issues are not isolated; much of the continent is in the same boat.
CAF may have made the right decision in reversing course back to January, but it has done itself no favors with the manner this entire timeline has played out.