Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Mohamed Salah
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Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.


Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi helpers step up to the tee at first women’s golf tournament

  • Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players

JEDDAH: Saudi volunteers will be able to write their names into the history books by helping at the first-ever Saudi Ladies International professional golf tournament.

Competition organizers are looking to recruit hundreds of people to help with the smooth running of the four-day event from March 19-22 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).

Volunteers will have the chance to step inside the ropes and get up close with the sport’s leading players, including Order of Merit winner Beth Allen, three-time Ladies European Tour (LET) winner Carly Booth and Solheim Cup hero Azahara Munoz, as they compete for $1 million in prize money. 

The LET tournament in Saudi Arabia will mark the first time that professional female golfers have played competitively in the country, and comes hot on the heels of last month’s triumphant men’s equivalent, the Saudi International, won by Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.

Online registration is now open for the debut event’s volunteers’ program.

Volunteers will be briefed before the event and receive a tournament uniform to wear while they work.

Marshals, including traveling, static, crossing and transitional positions, will be required for the tournament. Mobile scoreboard operators and walking scorers are among other roles that will offer volunteers a unique insight into the world-class event.

Mike Oliver, event director at Golf Saudi, said: “For the first year of this event, we are offering volunteers a chance to be part of history, working at the first professional women’s golf event to be held in the country.

“Volunteers, from both Saudi Arabia and abroad, will play a key role in helping us deliver a successful inaugural tournament,” he said.

A certificate of service will be presented to volunteers at the completion of the tournament.

As a bonus, volunteers will have their photo taken with the 2020 ladies winner during the prize presentation — a moment that will be seen by a worldwide audience via live broadcasts.