ACoN Diary 5: Prohibitive ticket prices taking gloss off a great tournament

The fifth installment of Jonathan Wilson's diary of the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon

Angola 2010 increasingly looks like a nadir. It could hardly have begun worse, with the gun attack on the Togo team, but even if that atrocity hadn’t happened, it would still have been a miserable tournament.

There was the farce of the opening game, when Angola, as though to confirm every stereotype about naive African defending and shocking African goalkeeping, squandered a four-goal lead in the final 11 minutes (and, yes, I am personally bitter about that; I’d written 11 pieces on the shooting before the game even started, and had five match reports to file within 20 minutes of the final whistle).

Transport was nightmarish, costs prohibitive, acquiring visas all but impossible: Angola was the tournament in which CAF showed quite clearly that the fans meant nothing to them. And then there was the football which, Egypt, Ghana, and to an extent Zambia aside, was dismal: negative, boorish and just not very good. (Actually, personally, I had quite a good time, sitting in a nice guest house in Benguela and eating a lot of seafood, and the press-box fight between Algerian and Egyptian journalists in the semi-final was one of the highlights of my career, but still...)

In most regards, this tournament has been better. The football has been, generally, open and attacking and if Ivory Coast and Ghana have been a little cautious, well, that’s understandable for favourites. Malabo, at least, feels a safe city – I’ve happily wandered about at night in a way I wouldn’t have in Luanda; and the prices are nothing like as ludicrous as Angola.

But where the tournament has fallen down – again – is in attracting fans.  This is a perennial Cup of Nations problem.

Part of the issue is geographical: hold the tournament in west Africa or north Africa, and it becomes far easier for travelling fans with distances more manageable for large groups of teams: in Mali in 2002, for instance, thousands of Ivory Coast fans crossed the border to Sikasso.

The issue is also partly financial: hosting the tournament in oil-producing countries tends to mean hotels are aimed at wealthy businessman, placing them out of reach of all but the richest fans. And visas were at least as hard to acquire as they were for Angola, putting off significant numbers of Europeans who might have travelled.

But actually, the real issue isn’t travelling fans. The real issue is the lack of local people turning up for games not involving the hosts. Again, this isn’t something new, but it really is something CAF must address. The suggestion that Equatorial Guinea and Gabon aren’t real “football countries” is only part relevant – the Cup of Nations is by home way the biggest public event staged in Malabo; people should be turning up out of interest if nothing else.

Price, clearly, is then the major problem. The cheapest tickets cost 5000 Central African Francs (around £6.25) which represents around a week’s wages. Of course people aren’t showing up. Hicham El-Amrani, he general secretary of CAF, when pressed on the subject, said, There is a system of sale that needs to be followed and respected. his is the flagship tournament  - we cannot just give away tickets.”

But why not? Why not, the day before a match, place unsold tickets on sale for, say 100 francs for a joint adult and child ticket? That would, surely, cover administration costs, would ensure games aren’t played before empty seats, and would make the tournament a spectacle for all local people, not just the rich ones.

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