Former Confederation of African Football (Caf) chief Issa Hayatou has come out of hibernation for the first time since March and blasted the continental football hierarchy over hints that Cameroon could be stripped of its 2019 Africa Cup of Nations hosting rights.
Ahmad Ahmad, the man who deposed Hayatou, hinted during a radio interview in neighbouring Burkina Faso this week that Cameroon could be stripped of their right to host the biennial event unless they worked “really hard to convince Caf that they have the ability to pull it off".
“Cameroon will have to work very hard to convince Caf that they would be ready to host a 24-team tournament,” said Ahmad.
“We have therefore decided that it is no longer the Caf executive that will inspect the countries selected for the organisation of the Afcon. And Caf would decide based on the report of the experts,” said Ahmad in a message construed as a clear warning that Cameroon could be stripped of their hosting rights.
Probably still smarting from being upstaged by an “upstart” who ended his 29-year old reign, Hayatou, a Cameroonian, fired back at Ahmad and claimed he should have made his comments after a Caf technical inspection visit later this month.
“The unpreparedness of Cameroon cannot be judged two years before the start of the competition,” Hayatou said.
“There is an undertone when the Caf president talks about an independent evaluation team. This is worrying.”
In July, Cameroon sports minister Bidoung Mpkwatt denied reports and growing concerns that the Central African country was behind schedule and instead assured stakeholders they would deliver on time.
And Cameroon Football Federation president Tombi A Roko Sidiki charged: “One may question the rationale of this inspection visit as the outcome seems to have already been decided at the highest level of Caf."
Although Cameroon government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary tried to allay fears that Cameroon would not be ready, there are genuine concerns that preparations are way off schedule and the reality is that the country would need a miracle to complete preparations on time.
Local media reports have sounded a note of caution that Cameroon is certainly not ready to host.
Western city Bafoussam is among the six locations earmarked by the regime in Yaoundé for the 2019 tournament, but it is apparently no longer possible to drive on the main and secondary roads to and from Bafoussam without falling into potholes.
More serious, the road linking the main city to the Kouekong Sports Stadium, newly built for the 2019 competition, is not yet under construction.
But frankly, the poor state of roads and sanitation facilities in the capital of the Western Region seems to give reason to Ahmad.
Yet while many Cameroonians feel the entire continent is ganging up against them and rightfully pointing out that their country was preparing for a 16-team tournament, only to be informed they would be hosting a 24-team finals, one Cameroonian has admitted his native country could be out of its depth.
“When I talk to people in the streets about the construction of the stadium in Douala,” said Cameroon great Patrick Mboma, “the state of the roads, the stadium in Bafoussam, the Paul Biya stadium, the general readiness of our country, there is little or no progress.
“I did not study at the National Highway School,” continued Mboma soberly and realistically, “but I still saw some stadium projects grow.
"Even if we can count on the efficiency of Turkish, Portuguese or Chinese companies to deliver the work in record time, it would have been good to act earlier so that questions shouldn’t be arising.”
Asked if the political crisis that has been undermining the Cameroon federation for nearly four years was playing a major role in this situation, Mboma said that should not be a reason for the federation's failures.
“We had the Afcon 2019 award during this crisis. That had to be taken into account. It took a long time to set up the organising committee for this competition. It was already a first problem. Who does what in the end? I’m not sure that the roles were really well defined. That raises the problem of the quality of the organisation.
“I do not want to show that worry, but out of prudence, the slow pace of infrastructure development and knowing my country, I do not find it unreasonable to recall that the Afcon 2019 takes place in only 18 months and to be frank, we do not seem to be ready,” he concluded.
North African giants Algeria and Morocco have both thrown their hats into the Caf basket indicating that they are ready to step in should Cameroon fail to meet the requirements.