Supporters are back in the football stadiums in Cameroon: CHAN 2021 begins on Saturday January 16 with a meeting in Youndé between the host country and Zimbabwe, while the second wave of Covid-19 hits the African continent and the appearance of new variants of the virus raises fears of an explosion of contaminations.

Despite the resurgence of the epidemic, this event should serve as a warm-up before the African Cup of Nations (CAN), which will be played in January 2022, also in Cameroon, and is a test of Yaoundé's ability to host an international competition at a time when it is confronted with two bloody conflicts: in the north where the jihadist group Boko Haram is increasing attacks and in the English-speaking regions of the west of the country.

The tournament, scheduled from January 16 to February 7, opposes 16 African national selections and generally reshuffles the cards of African continental football, since African stars playing abroad are not allowed to participate.

This sixth edition of the competition was initially to be held in April 2020, but had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Several thousand football aficionados are expected for this first major continental competition since the appearance of the virus.

A deliverance for some supporters, like Martin Tobokbe, a resident of Yaoundé.

"My country organizes and plays this tournament, it is a duty to support it", he rejoices.

The supporters are delighted to finally be able to return to a stadium.

© Pierre-René Worms

"A risk of importing the virus"

But this tournament is a "major challenge" for Cameroon, believes Dr. Yap Boum II, epidemiologist and head of a research center of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Yaoundé.

"With arriving travelers, there is a risk of importing the virus," he warns.

"The concern is very real, especially as Cameroonians hardly respect the measures against the virus," he said.

The CHAN will take place while a second wave of the epidemic hits the African continent and the appearance of new variants of the virus raises fears of an explosion of contaminations.

Faced with the disease, which has already killed 451 in Cameroon and officially affected some 27,336 people, the country's authorities have adopted a health protocol.

Limitation to 25% of the stadium occupancy rate during the first stages of the competition, then 50% from the semi-finals, wearing a mask compulsory, social distancing ...

“The distance between two spectators is established between two to three seats,” Hervé Emmanuel Nkom, responsible for one of the two stadiums selected for the competition in Douala, the economic capital, told AFP.

Social distancing will be essential during this competition which will take place from January 16 to February 7.

© Pierre-René Worms

A security challenge

The Cameroonian Minister of Sports, Narcisse Mouelle Kombi also underlined a "special device for marking seats", while Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute sought to reassure, evoking "a moment of pleasure".

The country is "emerging from the Covid-19, so this is an opportunity for Cameroonians to be happy after a difficult year," he said in December.

The meetings will take place in stadiums in three cities: Yaoundé, Douala and Limbé, in the south-west of the country, a region plagued by an English-speaking separatist insurgency that has left more than 3,000 dead and forced more than 700,000 people to flee their home since the end of 2016.

The challenge is therefore also safe for Cameroon, which has not organized a major men's football tournament since 1972, when separatists threatened to disrupt the competition in Limbé, but also in Buéa, also in the South-West region. , where some teams will train.

In this heavy climate, Cameroon opens the ball at the Yaoundé stadium against Zimbabwe in the presence of the president of the International Football Federation (Fifa), Gianni Infantino.

Morocco is a candidate for its own succession after its home title in 2018, in the absence of Algeria, winner of the last CAN.

With AFP

The summary of the week

France 24 invites you to come back to the news that marked the week

I subscribe

Take international news everywhere with you!

Download the France 24 application