ACCRA, Ghana — Cameroon was stripped of the right to host next year’s African Cup of Nations soccer tournament on Friday, with its preparations way behind schedule and a violent separatist rebellion in parts of the country making it a security risk.
The decision was made by tournament organizer the Confederation of African Football (CAF) after a special meeting of its executive committee in Ghana, where the women’s African Cup is being played.
CAF president Ahmad, who goes by one name, said the move to take the tournament away from the Central African country was “a crucial and decisive moment for the good of African football.”
A new bidding process was opened with countries interested in hosting Africa’s top soccer tournament, which starts in just six months, invited to apply by the end of December.
The African Cup is scheduled to be played June 15 to July 13.
Morocco, which this year lost out to a join United States-Canada-Mexico bid for the 2026 World Cup, is the favourite to step in and has frequently been touted as a short-notice host during Cameroon’s troubled preparations.
Those preparations have been criticized regularly since Cameroon won the right to host in 2014, but gained momentum in September when CAF, which had previously been unwilling to criticize the country publicly, said there was a “significant delay” with stadiums and other tournament-related infrastructure.
The African soccer body gave Cameroon a final chance by planning two more inspection visits in October.
One of those was to assess the security situation after an increase in violence in the southwest and northwest of the country involving English-speaking separatists and government forces.
There was a “horrific escalation of violence” in recent months in those regions, Amnesty International said. Two cities due to host African Cup games, Limbe and Bafoussam, are deep in the regions where the fighting is.
Claiming they are being marginalized in the largely French-speaking country, the English-speaking, or Anglophone, separatists vowed to disrupt and even attack the African Cup if it went ahead.
In a thinly-veiled threat, they said soccer players, officials and fans may not be safe.
African Cup hosting has been a major headache for CAF, with the last four tournaments not held in the country they were initially awarded to.
South Africa stepped in for war-torn Libya in 2013, Equatorial Guinea replaced Morocco in 2015 and Gabon stood in for Libya, which again couldn’t host last year.
Morocco may be the favourite to rescue CAF this time but lost the tournament three years ago after it threatened to place travel restrictions on fans travelling from West African countries affected by that year’s deadly Ebola outbreak.