INTERVIEW: AFCON’s message to the world

AFCON’s tournament director Mohamed Fadl talks about the challenges faced to make the event a success

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Thursday 27 Jun 2019,
Firework explodes in the sky as performers take part in the opening ceremony of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) ahead of the football match between Egypt and Zimbabwe at Cairo International Stadium on June 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which is entering its second week in all four cities in Egypt has been the talk of the world since its spectacular opening ceremony was aired live and watched by an estimated hundreds of millions of viewers.

In its first week, the tournament received much praise for the efforts exerted by the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for making the championship possible in just a few months. Delegates, guests, fans and media have been pleasantly surprised by Egypt’s renovated stadiums and facilities.

The 20-minute opening ceremony not only took the world’s breath away but helped people appreciate African culture and Egyptian heritage and civilisation.

“It took just three months to plan the whole thing, not only the opening ceremony, and actually all the authorities concerned contributed to bringing out a successful event,” tournament director Mohamed Fadl told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“Since the beginning of our work, we were concentrating on the renovations of the stadiums and the vision of each stadium. Everyone was involved in the details, even the infrastructure.In the end, it paid off. In my opinion it was amazing and everyone is happy. We are looking for perfection, hoping our national team would win the tournament and be the winner of the cup.

“The LOC is truly thrilled with all the praise and positive reactions it received for the opening ceremony and the organisation of this 32nd edition of the AFCON and this makes us keener to offer them the best throughout the tournament. Our main goal is not only delivering the best ever edition of the AFCON, but also to maintain the legacy of AFCON Egypt 2006.”

Fadl spoke of the “long and hard working hours” that took the organisers, in just a few months, to prepare for the tournament “that would meet the expectations of the whole football family, including the fans.

“Our time was so tight. We had to face all the challenges ahead, as hosts, with so much to be done in all aspects, including stadiums, tickets and the mascot.

When we started working, we had so many files and projects on the table that needed to be done immediately and with perfection within a short time,” Fadl said.

Fadl, who was appointed as tournament director in February, said they had no alternative but to work on everything simultaneously. “We had to go parallel while working on all those files including the renovation of the playing stadiums, training fields, selecting team hotels, selecting the volunteers, marketing and sponsorship issues, tickets, security and preparing for the draw ceremony.

It was a true challenge to focus on the details on everything related to the biggest continental football competition.

“Planning for the opening ceremony started immediately after the historic and gorgeous draw ceremony which took place at the Pyramids. We wanted it to be as amazing and spectacular as the draw, even better. The idea of the opening ceremony was all Egyptian and the theme was meant to show unified African nations showcasing their culture to the whole world. Two companies, the Egyptian Synergy and Blink, a foreign entity, worked to deliver our vision to what the entire world saw and admired. In the end, in my opinion, it was outstanding and startling and it was confirmed so by the positive feedback of the fans and the media. I had promised the people that everything will be perfect in Egypt 2019, and this is now the new Egypt.”

Fadl played for Egypt in the 2008 AFCON in Ghana. He also played for the Egyptian under-17 football team in the 1997 FIFA U-17 World Championship.

The 39-year-old Ahly footballer retired in 2017 and was tasked by his club to sign new players as well as becoming a television pundit.

Fadl finds it easier to be a player than an official. “It feels different. It is easier to be a player but now as the tournament director it is very difficult and complicated.

Now we have lots of challenges like I told you. Yes, the authorities are helping us but we want more. We want to change Egypt and improve the attendance of the games. Now, we are not dealing only with this tournament, but also after the tournament.

“Bringing Egyptian fans back to the stadiums in national competitions is the plan. We want to make use of all those stadiums on which huge amounts of money were spent for turning them into world-class stadiums. So, after the AFCON, they should stay in service and fans should be allowed in to cheer for their teams and to enjoy those re-furbished stadiums, to bring back the spirit and vibe to Egyptian stadiums. The players themselves need and have the right to play at the remarkable new jewel, Cairo Stadium, and enjoy its first class facilities.

“We are supporting the idea and vision about the Fan ID, about tickets online, protecting it and working on it with security officials. We are aiming, after the tournament, to apply the same procedures to the national competitions since it has proven to be successful. The difficulty before was in creating a system and to lay a foundation, which we have done now. We have put the base and we are looking forward to the next step.”

Fadl hopes Egypt wins the trophy on home soil. “I don’t want to analyse or go deep about the technical analysis, but the fans, in my opinion, will play an important role in Egypt winning. I believe Egypt is going to win with the fans’ support because the spectators are doing a great job in cheering for their teams.”

Despite the full house of Cairo Stadium, some stadiums have seen empty stands, contrary to the goal of the tournament. In AFCON 2006 in Egypt and the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2009, Egypt handled the problem of empty stadiums by filling them with soldiers from nearby military and police camps, donning colourful training suits and supporting the teams. But, Fadl has other plans for the current empty stands.

“We have ideas about how to fill these stadiums, but not with soldiers. No, I want it to be real and not fake. There are several options we are studying like selling tickets offline for matches other than Egypt. Every day we have lots of meetings with Egyptian authorities, LOC and CAF officials to find solutions. LOC President Hani Abu Rida has a vision. He intends to make this AFCON edition the best ever in everything, including attendance. You will see the difference soon. It will be different in a few days. The Algeria-Kenya game saw 22,000 people attending and that is a good step to start with. The problem is in the Fan ID which restricts the entrance to the stadium even if the fan has a ticket. Fans need to have a Fan ID, so I am trying to solve the problem.”

Fadl also revealed that the LOC organisers also promise to produce a dazzling closing ceremony.

“There will be a closing ceremony, same idea but different. I want the people to be amazed by Egypt, not only with the stadiums and their renovations or the broadcasting but about everything here in the tournament. I want the people to respect Egypt. Football is the easiest and fastest way to send messages to the world so here we are now, sending a lot of messages to the world,” Fadl said.

The 24-team AFCON takes place from 21 June to 19 July in the Egyptian cities of Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: AFCON’s message to the world

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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