Changes made by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to their flagship Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament and calendar are arguably the widest reaching in the history of the organisation.
CAF have decided to shift the Afcon finals from its traditional January/February slot to June/Julyâ€š and will also expand the tournament from 16 to 24 teams.
Added to thatâ€š they will now also play their CAF club competitions from August to Mayâ€š in line with the European calender, which will be music to the ears of the Premier Soccer League and its clubs.
These changes have been met with praise and disdainâ€š and will also present their own challenges for the organisation to overcome.
But on the wholeâ€š they make sense and are in line with the realities of global football – that the centre of power is Europe and trying to swim against the tideâ€š as the Afcon has for so many yearsâ€š is ultimately futile.
The decision to move the Nations Cup to mid-year is a boost for the careers of African playersâ€š who have in the past been hamstrung by their contractual obligations to their clubs in Europe.
It will end club-versus-country battles that have robbed the tournament of some of its brightest stars in the recent pastâ€š and be a relief to both players and teams.
There have been plenty of stories in the past of African players missing out on dream moves because the clubs concerned have not wanted to lose them for what is a crucial part of the European season every two years.
Those problems are now goneâ€š but another has arisen and it will be fascinating to see how CAF side-steps it.
In many parts of Africaâ€š June/July is not only the hottest period of the yearâ€š but has the heaviest rainfallâ€š potentially wreaking havoc with pitches.
That is not universally the caseâ€š it is probably the best time of the year in Southern Africaâ€š for exampleâ€š but the Afcon is there to be spread around.
In Cameroonâ€š Senegal and Guineaâ€š where the next three Nations Cups will be heldâ€š the average temperature at that time of year is above 30 degrees Celsiusâ€š and rainfallâ€š in July especiallyâ€š expected to be heavy.
It also means though that we should have no lengthy breaks in the PSL season over January/February which have been so unpopular with fansâ€š players and the sponsors in the past.
Instead we can have a small break over the festive seasonâ€š and then get straight back into it in early Januaryâ€š adding a potential four more precious match-day weekends to the calendar.
The expansion of the finals to 24 teams will also immediately exclude many African nations in terms of the infrastructure they are able to provide – not just stadiaâ€š but hotelsâ€š road infrastructure and security.
The worry is that it means an elite band of country’s – South Africa being one of them – will be able to host the eventâ€š at the exclusion of others.
Nations could apply to co-hostâ€š but this has always been an unpopular solution with CAF in the past.
It is also debatable from a sporting point of view whether 24â€š which equates to almost half of CAF’s 56 member associationsâ€š is the right number of teams.
The fear is that the quality of the product could be ‘dumbed down’â€š and the allure lost.
Whereas before reaching the Nations Cup was a task to be celebrated (just ask Bafana Bafana)â€š that is now not so much the case when the door has been opened wider for many more teams to make it.
Certainlyâ€š if South Africa cannot find themselves among the 24 top teams on the continentâ€š we have problems beyond what we comprehend at the moment.
But PSL clubs will certainly be celebrating their luckâ€š with the alignment of the CAF club competitions to the South African calendar a game-changer.
With an August start and May finishâ€š it means a proper pre-season for one something that Mamelodi Sundowns have not enjoyed for two years now.
It should also mean that CAF player registrations should also be aligned with the July/August and January transfer windowsâ€š something that has not happened in the past and left clubs unable to use their newly-acquired players in the competition until later.
Many nations will be bemoaning these changesâ€š but South Africa should be smilingâ€š and the PSL able to put away those serious thoughts they had of reverting to the February-November calendar to align themselves with CAF.
As luck would have itâ€š CAF have aligned themselves with the PSL.
By: Nick Said – TimesLIVE
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