The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) – CAF’s showpiece event – has taken its first formal steps toward expansion to 24 teams and a move from January/February to June/July, Pharaohs XI has learned.
A working committee comprising movers and shakers of African football – including former players and coaches – voted for the moves at the ongoing CAF Symposium in Morocco.
The change now moves onto the CAF Executive Committee as a resolution, and is expected to gain final approval with a vote on Thursday.
The working committee also voted to retain the current two-year cycle for AFCON.
Reasons mentioned by the committee for its decision to expand the tournament included opportunities for more teams to participate in addition to increased revenue.
Among the few advocating a change to a four-year cycle was Ghanaian legend Abedi Pele, according to sources.
Pele cited comments from English Premier League managers to justify his position, including those from Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, and Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. He was ultimately shut down.
The deliberations were also attended by Egyptian Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz.
After an expected Executive Committee approval later this week, details such as when the changes may take effect will be ironed out by a technical committee at a later date.
Each of the proposed changes have ignited a heated debate among fans and decision makers.
Those opposed to an eight-team expansion fear watered-down competition, citing EURO 2016 as an example.
Those in favor say it gives an opportunity for teams with lesser pedigree to compete in the finals.
A move to June/July presents unique climatic challenges, with much of Africa in the midst of its rainy season and northern parts of the continent experiencing scorching heat.
Detractors of the seasonal change also decry a perceived acquiescence to European clubs, who have often expressed displeasure with its African players leaving mid-season for AFCON.
Proponents believe its the most reasonable way to avoid players and clubs clashing over AFCON departures.
FIFA regulations require clubs to release players for AFCON if they are called up.