Afcon 2023: Ivory Coast signs host deal for Cup of Nations

Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe and Ivory Coast vice president Tiemoko Melliet Kone
Confederation of African Football president Patrice Motsepe (left) met Ivory Coast vice president Tiemoko Meyliet Kone in Abidjan on Friday

Officials from the Ivory Coast government signed a formal hosting agreement for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations with the Confederation of African Football (Caf) on Friday.

The signing is important as it all but ensures that the next finals, which will actually take place in 2024, will be held in the West African nation.

In recent years, the host country for the Nations Cups has moved in a relatively short period of time, with Cameroon missed the 2019 finals earlier this year.

Along with other officials, Caf president Patrice Motsepe was in Abidjan to meet with Ivorian government officials, including Vice President Tiemoko Melliet Kone and Sports Minister Paulin Claude Dahno, who signed the agreement.

Six stadiums in five cities – Abidjan, Bouake, Korhogo, San-Pedro and the capital Yamoussoukro – will host the 24-team finals, which will be held in January and February 2024.

The Stade Olympique d’Ebimpe, a 60,000-capacity stadium in Abidjan, is set to host the opening match and the final, while the city’s 45,000-capacity Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium is also being renovated.

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations Organizing Committee said it was satisfied with the progress of works at the Ebimpe Stadium at the end of a technical visit last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s National Infrastructure Office said the stadiums in Bouake and Yamoussoukro, which will seat 40,000 and 20,000 respectively, are essentially complete.

But the BBC’s Lalla Sy in Abidjan says concerns have been raised about whether there will be enough hotel rooms to accommodate competing teams, dignitaries and officials and traveling supporters.

Siandou Fofana, Ivory Coast’s tourism minister, called for hotels to be upgraded to international standards.

A general view of the construction and renovation work at the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium in Abidjan on August 18, 2022
Some stadiums for the 2023 Nations Cup – including the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium in Abidjan, pictured in August – are still under construction

2023 finals moved, new hosts for 2025

The 2023 Cup of Nations was originally scheduled for June and July next year, but was moved to avoid Ivory Coast’s rainy season.

Qualifiers for the finals are underway, but the proposed matches in September have been rescheduled to allow Africa’s five World Cup participants to arrange friendlies.

Group matches will resume in the next international break in March, with the final two rounds taking place next September.

Ivory Coast are playing in Group H despite having already secured a place in the tournament.

Meanwhile, Caf is also looking for new hosts for the 2025 Nations Cup after withdrawal of hosting rights in Guinea last month due to lack of proper advanced infrastructure and facilities.

The governing body of the continent set Friday as the deadline for countries to declare their interest in hosting the tournament and, after receiving documents and touring the bidding countries, are set to announce the successful country or co-hosts on February 10.

Demonstration of faith

Analysis – Piers Edwards, BBC Sport Africa

Friday’s signing is significant as it shows Caf’s faith in Ivory Coast to successfully host the 24-team Nations Cup in early 2024.

Shortly after taking over as Caf presidents at the start of 2021, Patrice Motsepe was troubled by the lack of leverage he had to speed up Cameroon’s preparations for this year’s Cup of Nations, given that the contract had already been signed before his arrival.

In February, he said the signing of such a legal document between the host nation and Caf should be delayed until the African football body no longer needs the threat of a host nation canceling the tournament in order to carry out various requests.

Motsepe’s successful trip to Abidjan should not be underestimated in its importance, underscoring that Ivory Coast are fit to host, especially after the 2025 finals were pulled from Guinea last month due to Caf’s preparedness concerns country.

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