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African football hit by CAF stadium ruling

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has moved to crack down on what it sees as substandard stadium infrastructure across the continent by ruling that 20 of its 54 member associations cannot use their main facilities to host international games.

The decision, made in a circular to member associations reported by the Associated Press and Reuters news agencies, threatens to throw the start of the next phase of African qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup into chaos.

Eight of the countries whose stadium accreditations have been revoked by CAF are involved in these qualifiers, which are scheduled to start on June 5. They include Senegal, the top-ranked African team in FIFA’s World Ranking at No.22.

Senegal’s 60,000-seat Stade Léopold Senghor in Dakar is currently undergoing renovation work, with CAF refusing to accredit a stadium in the city of Thies that has been used for recent national team games.

The next highest ranked country to be affected is Mali. The country’s 50,000-seat Stade du 26 Mars in Bamako has also failed to receive CAF approval. The other teams in World Cup qualifying to have their stadiums ruled out of action are: Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Liberia, Malawi and Namibia.

Some of the reasons cited by CAF for the removal of stadium accreditation include substandard pitches, lack of fixed seating for fans and “poor and inadequate” dugout areas. The countries without accredited stadia have been given until Friday by CAF to arrange neutral venues for their home games.

The standard of football infrastructure in Africa has long been a concern of CAF and FIFA. Patrice Motsepe, a South African mining billionaire who owns Premier Soccer League (PSL) club Mamelodi Sundowns, in March made improving stadia one of his pledges as he was elected as CAF’s new president.

In February 2020, FIFA president Gianni Infantino reiterated his pledge to build at least one top stadium in every member association nation in Africa. In November 2019, Infantino outlined a $1bn (£719.8m/€833.6m) plan to ensure every African country has at least one stadium that complies with the standards of world football’s governing body.

FIFA said it would work with CAF to assemble a panel of partners and a fund worth at least $1bn to make “solid and sustainable” infrastructural investments on the continent.