The decision to move the Confederation of African Football (CAF) club competitions from a February-November calendar to August-May, may not be as much of a done deal as it was first advertised.
The decision to align CAF’s flagship club competitions with the European calendar was largely welcomed when it was first mooted at the CAF symposium in Morocco in July.
This year’s expansion of the number of clubs in the group phase of Champions League and Confederation Cup – from eight to 16 – has meant the top teams in Africa have been forced to play group matches between May and July, when they should be off on holidays and then preparing for their new domestic seasons.
South African clubs, like Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates, have suffered severely in recent years from a lack of rest because of African club commitments and top teams in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, among other countries, have also complained and seemingly been listened to.
The two competitions were proposed to run from August to May in future, with preliminary rounds played at the start and the group phase, then to be followed by the quarterfinals, semifinal and a final.
But whether this change takes effect next year or only in August 2019 still had to be decided when CAF’s executive committee met in Accra at the weekend.
The 15-man committee spent several hours deliberating, but deferred any decision to the Inter club’s competition committee to make a more thorough investigation and recommendations for when the exco next meet in a few months.
It would seem then, time will run out to implement the change immediately and both the Champions League and Confederation Cup will continue as they have for decades, for 2018 at least.
But it also potentially opens the door for the move to be scrapped altogether and for the competitions to continue as they are indefinitely into the future.
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Certainly, it will be a logistical challenge for CAF to handle the switch as they have broadcast deals and sponsorship contracts that they need to honour and some ‘dead months’ while the competitions finish in November and only start again the following August will not be keenly welcomed by partners.
A solution mooted, though slightly farcical, could see the 2019 competition begin in August next year as scheduled, while the knockout stages of the 2018 tournament are on-going and still have to be completed.
It makes the most sense in terms of fulfilling contractual obligations, but could be taxing on clubs, who could theoretically have fixtures in the 2018 and 2019 competitions at the same time.
Imagine the scenes if a team is knocked out of the 2019 African Champions League while still competing in the 2018 edition…
All this needs to be thrashed out, but it might be months before we know future plans and that creates uncertainty for CAF and the teams involved.