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Are we ready to host the 2018 Africa Women’s Championship?

BY: Rosalind K. Amoh
Ghana’s Black Queens as they lined up for the 2016 Africa Women’s Championship (AWC) in Cameroun
Ghana’s Black Queens as they lined up for the 2016 Africa Women’s Championship (AWC) in Cameroun

Sitting in the stands for both the semi-finals and final of the 2016 Africa Women’s Championship (AWC) between Ghana and Cameroun, and then Nigeria versus Cameroun, respectively. I was thrilled about how well host nation Cameroun had pulled it through, raising the standard of organisation of women’s football in Africa.

However, I had to cringe at the thought that my dear country Ghana was the next to host the tournament in a year’s time. My apprehension was not about whether or not, Ghana had the capacity to pull off a wonderful event, but rather, my concern was over whether the competition in Ghana will pull the crowds, even if for free. Cameroun managed to pull the crowds to the stadium despite the fans being made to pay at the gates.

Well, seven months after being officially declared hosts for the 2018 AWC, my concerns are gradually giving way to anxiety and genuine fear, because there is nothing taking place on the ground, as far as organisation of the tournament is concerned.

Indeed, this week, I have been subjected to verbal attacks from some officials because they claimed I had said we are unprepared to host the 2018 AWC. And so I ask again: Are we prepared for the competition which is about 14 months away? If we are, what are the signs?

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Till date, the most important thing to get started with, which is the formation of the Local Organising Committee (LOC), has not been done. The LOC is the team that will have all the organisation of the competition sorted out: transport, security, hotel and hospitality, pitches, media, and any other activities considered important to the hosting of the event, yet there is none to start the process.

All these require funds which would not come from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) but from the host country. How do we intend to pool the resources needed to organise the continental competition when the process is yet to start?

Apart from the resources, the venues for the competition have not been chosen, neither have the training pitches. Indeed, there is no vibe at all about the competition. It is a sad state of affair compared with the early mobilisation when Ghana hosted the 1999 African Youth Championship, or the 2000 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which the country co-hosted with Nigeria, or more recently, the 2008 AFCON.

I don’t want to believe that this inaction is a general reflection of the importance the nation attaches to women’s football.

 Despite making eight appearances at the competition, the Black Queens have never won the continental title with their best performance being runners-up in 1998, 2002, 2004, 2008. The 2018 AWC is thus Ghana’s best chance to ‘host and win’ and secure one of the three spots for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) in France.

However, the Queens do not even know when they will begin preparations, especially as they will not participate in the qualifiers which begin in November.

It must be noted that AWC is the women’s version of the AFCON and CAF is as interested in it being organised well as it does with the AFCON. Right from the maiden AWC held in the Nigerian city of Abeokuta in 1998, there has never been a sub-standard tournament and past hosts — Nigeria, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia through to Cameroun — have all lived up to expectation because they started working towards the event very early.

Perhaps, Ghana’s Ministry of Youth and Sports has underestimated the weight of the competition as it has only eight participating teams. But with 12 months to go, the inertia gives room for concern.

Maybe, just maybe, the thinking is that a successful hosting of the upcoming WAFU tournament will pave the way for an easy organisation of the 2018 AWC, hence the lack of urgency by the authorities.

Yes, only two pitches may be needed to host the two groups, but with the current state of our pitches, they may not pass the critical test by CAF when the continental body sends a team for the first inspection late October.

We are also, perhaps, taking for granted the positive impact the competition will have on Ghana’s economy within that two weeks the event will be held.

For someone who has covered almost every AWC since 1998, I have interacted with colleague journalists from other countries who have been delighted that Ghana will be hosting the tournament because of the country’s huge reputation in football. They are keen to enquire about the state of preparations but the rather embarrassing response is that: We have not started preparations yet!

What is certain is that Ghana will be measured by the organisational success of last year’s tournament in Cameroun in such areas as logistics, mobilisation of spectators, among others.

For a country with a huge reputation in world football and with experience hosting a successful 2008 AFCON, we dare not fail to organise a successful AWC which is the flagship competition for women’s football in Africa.

For years, Ghana has clamoured for the chance to host the event since 2000, so we cannot afford to botch the chance given to us.