The Africa Football Cup of Nations tournament is scheduled to begin January 9 at Olembe Stadium in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.
On Monday, Confederation of African Football President Patrice Motsepe visited the 60,000-seat stadium, which is still under construction less than three weeks before the opening match.
Motsepe says construction workers are improving on the stadium and he is optimistic Cameroon will be ready for the opener.
“There is a huge commitment and a focus to make sure that some of those issues that are being put in place in the next few days, good progress will be made,” he said. “My message is to Africa and to the world that the people of Cameroon are ready to show the world the best of African Football and also the best of African hospitality. It is going to be a successful AFCON, so come January 9, there must be a kickoff.”
Motsepe’s visit came amid persistent local media reports that Olembe Stadium would not be ready.
Bulldozers dug and arranged roads at the stadium entrance on Tuesday, a day after Motsepe’s visit. Several dozen young people transported and planted trees, flowers and grass that officials say will beautify the facility.
Among the workers is 35-year-old building construction engineer Luc Eloundou. Eloundou says he is not sure the entire parking lot of the stadium will be complete within a week as requested by the government of Cameroon.
“Last month we were about 1,000 people here, but now I am seeing up to 300. Workers are not coming. Why? They work without money. Some borrow money to come and work but they don’t have their salaries. The work is much, even in more than a year we will not be able to finish the work,” he said.
Jean Fradique, technical director of the stadium, says 2,000 workers have been recruited to make sure that before a joint CAF/FIFA control mission visits, the stadium is ready for the opening match.
Fradique says workers are arranging parking spaces for cars that will bring football fans, players and match officials to the stadium. He says the huge mobilization of over 2,000 workers and several hundred compactors and construction equipment within the past two months is indicative that Cameroon is bent on finalizing construction work within one week.
Stadium construction began in March 2017. The government said the facility would be ready for the 2020 AFCON. But in January 2020, the CAF postponed the tournament for a year, saying Cameroon was not ready.
The CAF moved the tournament again in January 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local media in Cameroon say between COVID-19 and construction delays, the tournament may be postponed yet again. For now, the CAF says the tournament is on.