PtG Article 18.05.2022

Clampdowns on stadia security stop many national football matches in Africa

More than 30 stadia in Africa are currently deemed unfit by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and many countries are forced to play national matches abroad. Steve Menary provides an overview of the challenges arising from unfit stadiums in both Africa and the Caribbean region.

Keywords: Development Football

Attempts by football’s governing bodies to improve stadia security has left dozens of countries around the world unable to play senior national and club games at home. The clampdown is forcing countries to relocate, depriving local fans of watching their national stars in person and incurring extra costs for associations and often the governments that must pay to upgrade stadia.

The problem is the most acute in Africa, where the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has cracked down hard on a long-running battle to establish minimum standards at the continent’s stadia.

In 2019, CAF ordered members to improve stadia and subsequently began working with Interpol on safety and security standards. After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, CAF again urged its members to use the lack of fans created by lockdowns as an opportunity to upgrade facilities.

In a July 2020 note termed as a final reminder, CAF said: “When a stadium in one country does not meet the requirements, its national team and/or clubs may be required to play their matches in the approved stadium in another country.”

In March 2021, South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe – an ally of FIFA president Gianni Infantino - was elected unopposed as CAF president on a mandate that included a pledge to improve the country’s football infrastructure. Two months later, Motsepe, who owns South African club Mamelodi Sundowns, shocked African football by issuing stadia bans that left 20 of CAF’s 54 members unable to stage senior internationals or club games in the African Champions League and Confederations Cup.

The reasons for the bans range from substandard playing surfaces, dugout areas for team officials described as ‘poor and inadequate’, lack of fixed seating for fans, and VIP areas, media centres, training facilities and medical rooms rated as below.

The list of banned African stadiums continues to grow

A total of 23 stadia in 20 African countries were initially banned, but the subsequent start of qualifying for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in March suggests that more than 30 African stadia now appear to have been deemed unfit by CAF inspectors.

In the preliminary round of the 2023 Afcon qualifiers, only one of the 10 teams playing was able to host a game at home.

Mauritius staged both legs of its qualifier with Sao Tome et Principe, as the former Portuguese colony was unable to stage matches. The Seychelles also played the ‘home’ leg of their qualifier with Lesotho in Mauritius before travelling to Soweto in South Africa for the return.

Lesotho’s Setsoto Stadium and Eswatini’s Mavuso Sports Center had been deemed unfit in CAF’s original ban and both countries staged games in neighbouring South Africa.

Djibouti, South Sudan and Somalia were not on the original list of banned stadia but had to play their home Afcon preliminary games in Eqypt, Uganda and Tanzania respectively.

Chad was also not on the initial list but had to host Gambia in Cameroon. Gambia’s Banjul Independence Stadium was deemed unfit in February and their ‘home’ qualifier was staged in the Moroccan city of Agadir.

Further bans have followed. In April, the Ghana Football Association confirmed that the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi could also no longer host international football matches. CAF’s inspectors had issued a list of areas that needed addressing, including the ‘quality of the equipment’s and materials used in the different functional areas in the stadium’. When a subsequent visit found that these concerns had not been addressed, the stadium was banned, prompting criticism from Ghana’s minister for youth and sports, Mustapha Ussif.

Consequences of the bans

For those lower and middle ranking African countries that have now qualified for the group stages of the 2023 Afcon qualifiers, being forced to play games abroad due to the bans can be costly and time-consuming and the teams lose home advantage.

Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet told Play the Game: “It will cost too much to do the renovation. It’s about seats, the dressing room, the pitch. Unless something changes, we will be forced to play outside, probably in Senegal, maybe in Morocco. But we will play all our home games outside, so there will not really be home advantage. It’s very frustrating.”

Last year, Namibia was forced to play World Cup qualifiers in South Africa after the two main stadia in the capital Windhoek – the Sam Nujoma Stadium and Independence Stadium – were included in CAF’s original list of unfit stadia.

“It is an embarrassment for our nation that we cannot play our home matches at home. The worst part is that we are pumping money into another economy instead of our own, especially during such difficult times,” Namibia Football Association secretary general Franco Cosmos told The Namibian.

Lesotho, for example, is likely to have to continue playing in Soweto’s Dobsonville Stadium unless the country’s government steps in to fund an upgrade of the Setsoto Stadium in Maseru.

“There’s a lot of costs involved and it’s also a 5–6-hour drive, which will affect the number of supporters that can come, if they can come at all,” Chris Bullock, deputy general secretary at the Lesotho Football Association told Play the Game.

A long history of disasters at football matches

At the first CAF executive committee meeting chaired by Motsepe, the confederation’s general secretary Véron Mosengo-Omba gave a report on what was described as the ‘state of degradation of infrastructure in the African continent which do not or no longer offer the guarantees and aptitudes to host CAF competitions, in particular the Total Africa Cup of Nations.’  Improving ‘several infrastructures’ was deemed a priority.

Finding a host for CAF’s flagship Afcon contribution has often proved chaotic and the number of countries capable of staging the 24-team finals is limited, particularly given standards that demand, for example, multiple stadia with a minimum of 10,000 seats.

Africa also has a long history of disasters at football matches that have caused hundreds of deaths continues. There have been at least 150 fatalities at African football matches in the last decade alone and this trend shows no sign of abating.

In January 2022, up to eight people died and dozens more were injured in a stampede in Cameroon, when the home team were playing Comoros at the African Cup of Nations finals. Then in March, CAF doping control officer Joseph Kabungo died after a stampede in Abuja following a 2022 World Cup play-off between Nigeria and Ghana. In May, FIFA fined the Nigeria Football Federation 150,000 Swiss francs over the incident.

Table 1: African football stadia disasters

Date

Country

Event

Deaths

mar-01

Accra, Ghana

Hearts of Oak vs Asante Kotoko

127

feb-12

Port Said, Egypt

Al Ahly vs Al Masri

74

feb-74

Cairo, Egypt

Zamalek vs Dukla Prague

50

apr-01

Johannesburg, South Africa

Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates

43

jan-91

Johannesburg, South Africa

Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates

42

feb-15

Cairo, Egypt

Zamalek vs ENPPI

28

mar-87

Tripoli, Libya

Libya vs Malta

20

mar-09

Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast vs Malawi

19

feb-17

Uige, Angola

Santa Rita de Cassia vs Libolo

17

apr-01

Lubumbashi, DR Congo

TP Mazembe vs St Eloi Lupopo

14

jul-00

Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe vs South Africa

13

jun-07

Chililabombwe, Zambia

Zambia vs Congo

12

jun-96

Lusaka, Zambia

Zambia vs Sudan

9

jan-22

Yaounde, Cameroon

Cameroon vs Comoros

8

jul-17

Lilongwe, Malawi

Nyasa Big Bullets vs Silver Strikers

8

jul-17

Dakar, Senegal

Oukam vs Stade de Mbour

8

aug-89

Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria vs Angola

6

sep-18

Luanda, Angola

Primeiro de Agosto vs TP Mazembe

5

apr-97

Lagos, Nigeria

Nigeria vs Egypt

5

apr-00

Monrovia, Liberia

Liberia vs Chad

3

The costs of refurbishing African stadia

The introduction of the bans has proved costly for African governments. The ban on the Stade du 26 Mars in Bamako was lifted in February 2022 after a refit that cost Mali’s government seven billion Central African Francs (11.3 million US dollars).

Senegal is spending 46 million US dollars on the banned Léopold Senghor Stadium and to restore the Dempa Biop Stadium – site of a tragedy that killed eight people in 2017 – as the country eyes a bid to host a future Afcon.

Bringing Burkina Faso’s Stade du 4 Aout up to CAF standards is costing more than 14 billion West African Francs (23 million US dollars), but not all the renovation work has succeeded.

In March 2020, Zimbabwe’s government pledged 37.7 million US dollars towards renovating three stadia, including the National Stadium in Harare. However, Zimbabwe’s football association was fined 2,000 US dollars last year by CAF after work to the National Stadium failed to include the installation of fixed seats.

The 60,000 capacity National Stadium opened in 1987 and was one of 13 of the initial 23 stadia banned by CAF that were built with Chinese funding as part of China’s  global infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road initiative. A number of these stadiums have not been properly maintained since opening.

Table 2: Unfit African stadia funded by China

Country

Stadium

Location

Capacity

Opened

Burkina Faso

Stade de 4-Aout

Ouagadougou 

35.000

1984

Central African Republic

Stade Barthélemy Boganda

Bangui

50.000

2006

Gambia

Independence Stadium

Bakau

28.000

1984

Kenya

Kasarani Stadium

Nairobi

60.000

1987

Liberia

Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium

Paynesville

35.000

1986

Malawi

Bingu National Stadium

Lilongwe

41.100

2017

Mali

Stade du 26 Mars

Bamako

55.000

2001

Niger

Stade Général Seyni Kountché

Niamey

35.000

1989

Rwanda

Amahoro National Stadium

Kigali

30.000

1986

Senegal

Léopold Senghor Stadium

Dakar

60.000

1985

Sierra Leone

Siaka Steven Stadium

Freetown

45.000

1980

Uganda

Mandela National Stadium

Kampala

45.202

1997

Zimbabwe

National Sports Stadium

Harare

60.000

1987

The CAF ban led to some government’s returning to China for funding to restore stadia. In Sierra Leone, China agreed in March 2022 to provide 40 million US dollars to renovate the Siaka Stevens National Stadium, which was banned by CAF in 2021.

The Chinese government built the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium in Liberia and then provided another 18 million US dollars for renovations between 2016 and 2019 but this work was not enough to escape the CAF ban.

Mauritius was also able to host its Afcon 2023 preliminary matches with help from China, which co-financed the Complexe Sportif de Côte d'Or.

Another beneficiary of the bans has been South African company Stadium Management SA. SMSA runs the FNB, Orlando, Dobsonville, and Rand stadia in Johannesburg, which have hosted the national teams of Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, and Namibia that were unable to play at home due to the bans.

Smaller countries in the Caribbean also have stadium bans

Africa is not the only part of the world where countries have been unable to play matches at home. The introduction of the Nations League in the CONCACAF region in 2019 provided regular games for many smaller countries, particularly in the Caribbean, but stadia rules prevent sides playing at home, such as the Dutch Caribbean territory of Aruba.

Egbert Lacle, president of the Arubaanse Voetbal Bond, told Play the Game: “The first edition turned out to be a disappointment for Aruba, due to the fact that Aruba couldn't play its home matches in Aruba because the stadium is not approved by FIFA and CONCACAF. This certainly also affected the performance of the Aruba team, finishing last of the group with no points and consequently relegating to the C Division for the 2022/2023 edition.”

In the 2019 CONCACAF Nations League, both Aruba and two other Dutch territories Bonaire and Sint Maarten played in Curacao. Cuba played games in the Cayman Islands, the French territory of Saint Martin played in Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands played in St Kitts & Nevis.

CONCACAF has adopted a less draconian approach than CAF and helped fund stadia work in Curacao and the Dominican Republic and also the British Virgin Islands, which can now play at home, but Aruba is still unable to host games.

“We are currently working on upgrading the stadium and hopefully, we will be ready by the end of the year,” adds Mr Lacle. “There are more countries that still have this problem, but since the first edition, most of them could upgrade their stadium, so I think now it’s just a few in the Caribbean.”

Cuba can also host games after help from CONCACAF, but Bonaire, Saint Martin and Sint Marten cannot.

“For the upcoming Concacaf Nations League, 37 of our 41 Member Associations have the facilities to host international matches,” confirmed CONCACAF in a statement to Play the Game. “In several cases, this is due to support provided by CONCACAF and FIFA in the form of football development funding that has helped Mas [member associations] improve their infrastructure.”

In the CONCACAF region and many other parts of the globe, 2022 World Cup qualifiers were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and health restrictions. Swathes of games had to be relocated due to health restrictions including the entire Oceania Football Confederation programme of qualifiers to Qatar.

In Asia, three countries did not play their most recent competitive games at home. Macau played in the Chinese city of Zhuhai, Timor Leste played in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, and Pakistan played in Doha. The AFC did not respond to a request for a comment, but the Pakistan Football Federation was suspended by FIFA in April 2021 for third party interference.

FIFA: Stadia are a matter for regional confederations

In February 2022, FIFA introduced a new set of stadium guidelines for the first time in 11 years. The 285-page document is aimed mainly at the design and construction of new stadia, but FIFA said: “The guidelines are designed to support the ongoing, regular staging of football matches rather than just the hosting of any FIFA tournament or other competition.”

FIFA would not comment on any of the stadia prohibited from staging senior games and said this was a matter for regional confederations. The world body also suggested that national associations that incurred extra costs from being forced to play abroad can use the money from FIFA’s Forward Fund to cover expenses. The new Forward Fund 3.0 runs for four years from 2023 to 2026 and guarantees all FIFA members 8 million US dollars.

While the imposition of new guidelines should increase the safety of fans, for those countries - particularly in Africa – that are reliant on governments to upgrade their stadia, the next round of senior qualifiers could prove difficult on and off the pitch.

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