LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Africa's Nations Cup will maintain its two-yearly schedule despite pressure from European clubs, but will not follow the World Cup in expanding the number of participants, the Confederation of African Football said on Friday.
The staging of the African championship every other January draws heavy criticism from clubs in Europe, which are forced to release players in the middle of their seasons.
“It is always a contentious date from a European perspective, but not from the perspective of Africa," the confederation's general secretary, Hicham El Amrani, told a press conference ahead of Saturday’s start of the tournament in Gabon.
“It has been the most successful way to develop and organise African football ... It’s critical to keep it every two years if we are further develop infrastructure. The Nations Cup brings not only new stadiums but also upgrades in terms of airports, road and hotels.” The 2023 event in Guinea will, however, have to move from the usual January slot because the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will only just have finished the previous December.
“Those are specifically exceptional circumstances," Amrani said.
He also said an expansion of the tournament, following FIFA’s decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from 32 from 2026 onwards, was “not on the agenda”. “Sixteen teams is a great format for us. We see it as a fair and consistent sporting approach. If we expanded it, only a few African countries would have the capacity to ever be able to host it, and that is not what we want," he said.
"We don’t want to exclude anybody from hosting the tournament.” The next two Nations Cup finals will be hosted in Cameroon in 2019 and Ivory Coast in 2021.
Editing by Kevin Liffey