Workers are putting the finishing touches on fan zones in Yaoundé ahead of the long-awaited launch of Africa’s biggest sporting event this weekend.
Plagued by months of problems and uncertainties, the month-long Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) kicks off Sunday when host Cameroon faces Burkina Faso.
Preparations to get the giant screens, shops, restaurants and fan space ready for thousands of supporters in the nation’s capital are definitely in last-minute fashion.
“We Cameroonians like to leave everything until the last breath”, laughs Simon Atangana, a former national player who is part of an organization setting up fan zones.
“Everything will of course be ready. CAN is going to be a big party, and the images will be shown around the world. “
But a familiar foe, the coronavirus, is a potential fly in the ointment.
The global pandemic forced the postponement of last year’s CAN, and fears of another delay were only allayed last month.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has established strict rules in an attempt to prevent CAN from becoming a large-scale event.
Those wishing to enter the stadium must be fully vaccinated – in a country where only 6% of the adult population has been injected – and show a negative PCR test for the virus dating within 72 hours.
Venues have been limited to 60 percent of their capacity, although that figure will be raised to 80 percent when Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” enter the field.
The rampant spread of the Omicron variant casts a veil on team formations.
Gabonese Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the latest player to test positive and could miss his country’s Group C open game against Comoros on January 10.
“We have asked CAF if we can replace some of our players who have been infected with Covid-19 but the answer is no,” Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet said.
“If that stays the case, it could be a disaster … but under current rules, we are not allowed to replace anyone on the final 28-man roster.”
While waiting for the party
On the Warda square in Yaoundé, street vendors of flags, shirts and vuvuzela horns say they have experienced a slow start in trade.
“Business has not yet taken off as much as I would like, but I am optimistic,” said Arnaud Medja, 29, wearing head to toe in Cameroon’s national colors of green, yellow and red. .
“It’s just taking longer than expected. It was only the Covid rules that came in and put the brakes on things. “
The cup and the lion mascot of the Mola tournament roamed the streets of Yaoundé, supported by dancers and musicians and escorted by bikers adorned with the flags of all the competing nations.
“CAN is going to be fun, a party,” said Laurentine, a 33-year-old cosmetics salesperson.
“It’s going to be great to see the city move and see everyone coming out again. “
Desperate for tickets
Dozens of people lined up outside ticket outlets on Wednesday after CAN said seats were on sale, though they waited in vain.
“I spent all day yesterday in line. I went to the town hall, to the Ahidjo stadium, and now it’s the Sports Palace “, says Karine Sunshine, 23 years old.
“But there is still nothing to sell. I am desperate to see the opening game.
“We have been waiting for this moment for 50 years, it was the last time that the CAN was organized in Cameroon. So I did my vaccines, and now I’m waiting a little longer, because the Cameroonians will win the cup. Just look at the atmosphere there will be this weekend.
But not everyone seemed to be aware of the tournament’s anti-Covid restrictions, or even particularly concerned about the virus.
At Yaoundé’s central market, hundreds of people, none of whom were masked, crowded the stalls as Cameroonian and international music came out of the loudspeakers.
“Yes, of course I will go to the stadium,” said Abdoulay, a water seller. “Do you have to be vaccinated (to enter)? Oh, in that case, I won’t go.
“There is no corona in Cameroon, and we don’t want the vaccine here. You don’t know what’s in it and people who are vaccinated get sick anyway, ”he said.
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