Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Mohamed Salah
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Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.


Top riders saddle up for Saudi Cup preview

Updated 28 February 2020

Top riders saddle up for Saudi Cup preview

  • Leading male and female jockeys will feature at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack ahead of the world’s richest horse race

RIYADH: Racing fans will get a taste of the excitement they can expect from the world’s richest horse race, the Saudi Cup, when leading riders compete in the first-ever stc International Jockeys Challenge at King Abdul Aziz Racetrack in Riyadh on Friday.

Some of the world’s best male and female jockeys will compete over eight races in the Kingdom Day meet on the eve of the inaugural running of the $20 million Saudi Cup on Saturday.

Frankie Dettori, the 2019 Longines world’s best jockey, will be among riders from 10 countries taking part.

Dettori is among the favorites to win the opening leg of the challenge on Moshaghebah, a winner of her last race. 

In the 1,400m event, Matmon will be ridden by three-time New Zealand champion Lisa Allpress.

KINGDOM DAY SCHEDULE - FRIDAY

• Race 1: Saudi-bred Maiden Time: 3:20 p.m. (KSA) Distance: 1,400m (7 furlong)

• Race 2: Equestrian Club Award, Saudi-bred, Open Time: 3:45 p.m. Distance: 1,400m (7 furlong)

• Race 3: International Jockeys Challenge, Saudi-bred, Handicap Time: 4:15 p.m. Distance: 1,400m (7 furlong)

• Race 4: International Jockeys Challenge, Imported and Saudi-bred, Handicap Time: 4:45 p.m. Distance 1,600m (1 mile)

• Race 5: Equestrian Club Award, Saudi-bred fillies, Open Time: 5:15 p.m. Distance: 1,600m (1 mile)

• Race 6: International Jockeys Challenge, Saudi-bred, Handicap Time: 5:45 p.m. Distance: 1,800m (1 mile and 1 furlong)

• Race 7: International Jockeys Challenge, Saudi-bred, Handicap Time: 6:30 p.m. Distance: 1,200m (6 furlongs)

• Race 8: Equestrian Club Prize, Saudi-bred, Open Time: 7 p.m. Distance: 1,600m (1 mile))

“I was thrilled to be invited and am excited to be riding against world-class jockeys for world-class trainers,” Allpress said.

“Hopefully I can show what I can do, but in a challenge like this, a lot comes down to the luck of the draw.

“I can’t wait to get out on the track,” she added. “My first impressions were ‘wow.’ We don’t really have anything like this back at home, so I’m really excited to be a part of this.”

In the second leg, Mike Smith, the most successful jockey in Breeders’ Cup history, will ride Sun Hat, a three-time winner in England and a previous winner over 1,650m in Saudi Arabia.

Group 1 winning trainer Bader Rizaiq could make history with two runners, Aeisam and Nassohah, in the second leg of the challenge. Leading British jockey Nicola Currie will ride Aeisam, while Nassohah will be ridden by Canadian Emma-Jayne Wilson. 

In the third leg, Dettori will ride five-time winner Sha Aem, while Adel Alfouraidi will ride Bajeer, a winner of his last start.

French jockey Mickaelle Michel has a strong chance of finishing the challenge on a high in leg four on recent winner Bint Alaqeelah, while Japanese star Yutaka Take has an outside chance on Yafooz.