The 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations football tournament being held in Cameroon will increase sports participation and boost the country’s development agenda, its sports minister told African Business on Monday 21 November.
The two-week event, which is happening between 19 November and 3 December 2016, kicked off in a hive of activity in the capital Yaounde on Saturday, with Cameroon defeating Egypt 2-0 in the refurbished Omnisports stadium. The stadium was built in 1972 for the men’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) but has recently been refurbished at a cost in excess of FCfa40bn ($6.5m). Meanwhile, Cameroon has also seen further infrastructure projects across the country because of the tournament, with a second stadium in the coastal city of Limbe.
“These facilities will not only help promote football but sports in general especially with young people and women,” Minister of Sports and Physical Education Pierre Ismael Bidoung Mkpatt said. “The government has committed itself to make sure the facilities are in place and at the end of the day we will have created a lot of jobs for Cameroonians.”
The tournament is also seen as a key symbol of economic growth under president Paul Biya – who has reigned the country for 30 years – and will help push forward the country’s 2035 Vision for national development, he added.
However, the tournament has not been without controversy. In May a worker at the Yaounde stadium was killed during renovations while a bus strike last week threatened to hit the event.
Despite the pre-tournament issues, most Cameroonians have embraced the event. In the capital, billboards adorned with local players line the streets around the stadium, while thousands of supporters descended on the Omnisports stadium prior to kick-off, with many clad in the green, red and gold colours of Cameroon.
“I am really excited because I know Cameroon will win,” said 20-year-old student Cassandra Mamekem, as she stood outside the stadium with a group of friends. “I am a fan of football and [women’s football] is really increasing.” But amid the crowds of animated Cameroonians, street vendors and dignitaries – including superstar footballer Samuel Eto’o – at the stadium, the number of heavily armed security personnel is conspicuous, in a bid counter the ongoing terrorist threat facing the country.
“The government specialists attended the Euros in France to see how it is organised and learn techniques to cover the event because now the terrorists [threat has grown],” Omnisports stadium director Simon Faustin Mvongo said. “It is a measure that the Cameroon government has long taken in order to make sure there is a high security around the stadium.”
Over the last two years, Cameroon has battled with Boko Haram militants from neighbouring Nigeria with regular attacks occurring in the country’s northern region. Over 500 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram, according to Amnesty International; however, a report published in November by the International Crisis Group said Cameroon forces have made significant gains against the militant group.
“The security is a lot because we know that Cameroon has undergone very many disasters such as the Boko Haram… the security [situation] is at a climax,” Donald Cedrek, a security volunteer at the tournament, said. Nevertheless, there are high expectations for women’s football team at this year’s tournament after the team achieved a second place finish at the last CAN tournament and an impressive debut showing at the World Cup in Canada in 2015.