Under any scenario, Confederation of Africa Football’s decision to expand the composition of the Africa Cup of Nations will leave the continent better off.
Influx of undeserving teams and players or not. Watered down levels of competitions or not, bigger nightmare for hosting countries or not, this is a good thing for the continent.
Every way you look at it, the expanded Afcon will offer better incentives to more Africans and that is a core business of Caf.
And that was the assessment of key stakeholders when African football president Ahmad Ahmad revived plans in 2017 to raise the number of participating countries from 16 to 24.
Firstly, the expanded Afcon will give more nations the opportunity to make their debuts in Africa’s biggest stage. And it has already happened.
Madagascar, Ahmad’s country of birth, has qualified for the big stage for the very first time, and so has Mauritania, and neighbours Burundi.
Kenya has made it back for the first time in 15 years and all that is 100 percent down to the fact that the tournament’s qualifying format was modified.
Secondly, a bigger tournament is more appealing because it brings more countries together, more Africans together.
Had it remained 16 teams, only citizens of 16 countries would have been following the competition actively.
But now, eight more countries will be following the tournament and there is a high chance we might witness more stadium attendance and bigger numbers in terms of viewership.
And politically, the 24-team Afcon will certainly allow Caf to appease many of its 56 members who miss out on the party every two years that the tournament is held, especially teams from sub- Saharan Africa.
As we have all learnt from the ongoing turmoil raging inside Caf, it is crucial for the African football body to maintain its financial flow from able countries while at the same time increasing the representation of poorer countries. Only expansion will achieve that.
Europe’s football governing body, Uefa, made a similar move in 2008 to increase the European Championship from 16 teams to 24 ahead of Euro 2016 and it worked.
The 2016 tournament, featuring 24 teams, was overly refreshing, with new countries like Iceland and Wales competing for the first time and what’s more the final between France and Portugal attracted 284 million viewers, which made it the second most viewed game in European tournament history. So I’m not bluffing.
In its first edition in 1957, there were only three participating nations: Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
And since then, Afcon has been expanded twice, first to incorporate 16 teams and later to include 24.
If those before us would have refused to increase the tournament’s composition, Caf would still be the small, non-inclusive shell of a body that is not in any way representative of Africa.
So there is absolute merit in expanding the competition. Let the games begin!