CHAN 2020: Cameroon’s First Hosting of Continental Football Tourney in 49 Years Overshadowed by Genocidal War, Covid-19
The first major African football tournament organized since the start of the pandemic; the African Nations Championship (CHAN) is a competition reserved for players plying their trade on the continent. The event is a test for Cameroon, which is due to host the Queen of African competitions: the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in a year.
CHAN 2021 started on Saturday, January 16 with a meeting in Yaounde between the host country and Zimbabwe, while the second wave of Covid-19 hits the African continent and the appearance of new variants of the virus raises fears of an explosion of contamination.
Despite the resurgence of the epidemic, this event should serve as a warm-up before the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which will be played in January 2022, also in Cameroon, and is a test of Yaounde's ability to host an international competition at a time when it is confronted with two bloody conflicts: in the north where the jihadist group Boko Haram is increasing attacks and in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.
The tournament opposes 16 African national selections and generally reshuffles the cards of African continental football, since African stars playing abroad are not allowed to participate.
This sixth edition of the competition was initially billed for April 2020 but had to be postponed due to the continuous spread of the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic. Several thousand football aficionados are expected for this first major continental competition since the appearance of the virus.
This comes as a deliverance for some supporters like Lukong Beltus, a resident of Yaounde. “My country organizes and plays this tournament, it is a duty to support it”, he rejoices.
But this tournament is a “major challenge” for Cameroon, says Dr. Yap Boum II, epidemiologist and Head of a research centre of Doctors Without Borders (DWB) in Yaounde.
“With arriving travellers, there is a risk of importing the virus,” he warns, adding that “The concern is very real, especially as Cameroonians hardly respect the measures against the virus”.
The CHAN is unfolding while a second wave of the epidemic hits the African Continent and the appearance of new variants of the virus raises fears of an explosion of contaminations.
The games are being played in stadiums of three cities: Yaounde, Douala and Limbe, in the troubled former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons, a region plagued by an ongoing genocidal war that has left more than 3,000 people dead according to the United Nations, (local and international rights organizations put the figure at over 12,000) and forced more than 700,000 people to flee their homes, with thousands of others living as refugees in foreign countries since the end of 2016.
Cameroon opened the ball with a 1-0 victory over Zimbabwe at the Yaounde stadium in the presence of the President of the International Football Federation (FIFA), Gianni Infantino, CAF's new Honorary President, Issa Hayatou and Cameroon's Prime Minister, Mr. Dion Ngute watching.