When it was announced that the Africa Cup of Nations was being permanently moved to the European summer months, thereby ensuring top players wouldn’t miss any time with their clubs while taking part in it, Liverpool fans celebrated.
They aren’t likely to be celebrating today with news spreading that the CAF intend to play the next edition of the tournament at its more traditional time, a roughly four-week stretch in January and February that will see key Reds called away next season.
There was always a question, when CAF first changed AFCoN’s dates, about how it would work in practice for hosting nations. Because while for some regions it was a move that could be made to work, for others it seemed likely to be challenging.
There are regions of Africa whose climates are most conducive to holding a major sporting event in June or July, but for many of the continent’s traditional powers—including 2021 host Cameroon—it’s a period of either extreme heat or monsoon rain.
“When we took the decision to move the Africa Cup of Nations to June we have always said that we need to have some flexibility over the dates,” CAF president Ahmad Ahmad said. “This is because of the different climatic conditions in the continent.”
In Cameroon, the issue is not heat—capital Yaoundé sees its lowest yearly temperatures during the months of July and August—so much as rain, as that’s in the middle of a long rainy season that runs from the middle of February all the way into November.
“In my view, it is not possible, because of the climatic conditions in Cameroon, to stage the Africa Cup of Nations in June-July,” Ahmad Ahmad added, though as yet there has been no official decision. “This is clear, so we must take a decision on the date.”
That official announcement on the 2021 AFCoN dates is expected to come shortly, and it’s expected to mean that Liverpool will be without Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, Naby Keïta, and perhaps Joël Matip for a significant stretch next season.
Update: Shortly after publication, it was announced that the 2021 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations will in fact be played in January and February with participating players missing up to six Premier League games as a result.