This House believes Gabon hosting the Africa Cup of Nations was a good thing

In 2012, Gabon, along with Equatorial Guinea, hosted the Africa Cup of Nations, the primary international football competition in Africa. Both nations held an equal number of matches, with Gabon holding the final, and Equatorial Guinea the bronze medal match and opening game. These two relatively small countries (Equatorial Guinea with a population under one million, and Gabon under two million) hosted the tournament for the first time, previous host nations including Angola (whose tournament in 2010 was marred by the attack on the bus carrying the Togo team to Cabinda), Ghana and Egypt. Gabon, whose share of matches included the final, was perhaps more of a sporting success than imagined: both host nations reached the quarter finals. A number of key African footballing powerhouses, such as Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Cameroon and Algeria failed to qualify. The two nations were selected as hosts in 2006.

High profile sporting events are always controversial because of their expense and the coverage they bring if nothing else. While not on the same scale as the Olympic Games or the World Cup (which has been hosted within Africa: South Africa in 2010), the Africa Cup of Nations is the most high profile truly African event, not only receiving extensive coverage within the continent but also outside the region, including in the UK[1]. While both countries are of medium development as per (non inequality adjusted) UN Human Development Index figures, a particular focus was put on the human rights record on both nations, in particular that of Gabon’s co-hosts, Equatorial Guinea[2].

[1] ITV Sport, “Watch 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Live on ITV”,, 2013,

[2] Koepp, Dirk, “Human rights groups call for Africa Cup boycott”,, 2012,


The ACN in Gabon shows what can be done by smaller African nations

A key reason for hosting any big sporting event is that it puts the host in a shop window. Unless the event is a disaster (as, arguably, Angola’s tournament was due to the gun attack on the Togo team), which it was not, it creates an opportunity for the nation to show itself as being an advanced society, capable of big events, “getting things done” and as a place to do business. All of this is positive for the economies of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The African Development Bank notes that Economic growth was 7% in 2011 and 5.7% in Gabon in part because of “massive investments undertaken for football’s Africa Cup of Nations 2012”.[1]

[1] African Economic Outlook, ‘Gabon Economic Outlook’, African Development Bank Group, accessed 28/1/2014,


Aside from the cost issues, the event is short-lived, a few weeks. An event such as the African Cup of Nations will only be remembered for a while, and then it will just be a footnote in history, fading from the memory quicker than an event like a World Cup. The ACN is focused largely within Africa, when all the PR benefits are best focused towards Europe and higher income countries.

The economic effects are not always beneficial and are only temporary; even the massive building projects have failed to solve the problem with unemployment which is at 27%.

Legacy of infrastructure

The benefits of hosting these events for African nations include the ability to concentrate on infrastructure for the event. In addition to sporting infrastructure, which could last well in excess of 50 years, homes, hospitals, roads and schools have been constructed in Gabon’s host cities[1]. The Chinese government assisted funding of some of this;[2] it co-financed and helped construct the Stade de l’Amitié-Sino-Gabonaise, the biggest stadium.

[1] Yilmaz, Cetin, “Gabon works hard for 2012 Cup of Nations”, Hurriyet Daily News,

[2] Murphy, Chris, “African ambition: tiny nations host football feast”, CNN, 2012,


This infrastructure still costs money, whatever event it is around: a state could launch an infrastructure drive without a football tournament that would be much more focused on the real needs of the people. Foreign investment can have significant costs, such as preferential access to natural resources. The work can often wind up being done by foreign contractors so that it creates no local jobs, as happened when Angola hosted the tournament[1]. In the case of the Stade de l’Amitié-Sino-Gabonaise China does not just get the benefit of the name; the finance provided was a loan, and the construction was done by the Shanghai Construction Group meaning much of the benefit went to China.[2]

[1] Capstick, Alex, “Angola uses football to showcase economy”, BBC News, 2010,

[2] Ndenguino-Mpira, Hermanno, “The African Cup of Nations 2012 – China’s goals”, Centre for Chinese Studies, 23 January 2012,

Benefits spread across the country

The benefits of these events, unlike hosting an event such as an Olympic Games (which would be outside the reach of Gabon or Equatorial Guinea, especially with the increasing trend of the IOC to select major world cities in medium or high income countries), is that more than one site in a country can host different parts of the tournament. This provides a platform for a focus on broad based development across the entire nation, rather than one-sideded development focused on one city. In Gabon’s case there was both construction of the Stade de l’Amitié-Sino-Gabonaise in the Capital and a rebuild of a stadium in Franceville for €76.2 million[1].

[1] Ballong, Stéphane, ‘Gabon’s 2012 CAN effect’, theafricareport, 7 December 2011,


There were only two host cities in each country, however. This is understandable: the African Cup of Nations does not use as large a number of venues as other tournaments. The 2013 edition in South Africa used a larger, fifth, venue for three matches only, and the 2015 event will revert to four venues.

Helps small businesses

There is a big benefit for small businesses in hosting the large sporting events. The hosting of the tournament in 2012 has been credited by African Economic Outlook with playing a role in the “robust” economic growth in the country in that year turning the country around from negative growth in 2009[1]. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations was credited with 10,000 jobs and helping the tourist sectors of the South African economy,[2] Gabon would have received a similar boost.

[1] NN, “Gabon”, African Economic Outlook, no date,

[2] NN, “Africa Cup of Nations 2013 to boost SMEs in South Africa”, MSME News Network, 2013,


The African Cup of Nations brings very few tourists with it; Ghana vs Guinea had only 4,000 fans while the Zambia vs Sudan Quarter final only had a few hundred spectators.[1] Numbers like this are clearly not going to boost local shops and bars much. Even the investment does not boost local small businesses; the contracts went to big foreign firms. Those firms then make contracts with companies they already know not local ones and often employ foreign workers; the construction of the Stade de l’Amitié-Sino-Gabonaise employed a thousand workers, but only a quarter were Gabonese.[2]

[1] Reuters, ‘Fans go it alone at Africa Cup of Nations’, AlJazeera, 6 February 2012,

[2] Ballong, Stéphane, ‘Gabon’s 2012 CAN effect’, theafricareport, 7 December 2011,

Cost could be spent on other things

Gabon’s government invested €370 million in the games.[1] Even though it is one of the more stable West African countries, there are still many people living in grinding poverty – nearly 20% of the population, according to the World Bank[2]. While infrastructure development is welcome, it is a better use of money to lift people out of poverty rather than for three weeks of football.

It can also have other negative effects on the day to day lives of individuals, for example in South Africa when it hosted the world cup tolls were increase[3].

[1] Ndenguino-Mpira, Hermanno, “The African Cup of Nations 2012 – China’s goals”, Centre for Chinese Studies, 23 January 2012,

[2]World Bank, “World Development Indicators”, World Bank Databank,

[3] Sands, Darren, “In South Africa, the African Cup of Nations is big business”, Black Enterprise, 2013,


There are always other things that any sum of money could be spent on. Every nation, even ones with large economies and high development standards have other things to spend money on.

The reason why many nations desire to host prestigious sporting events, giving them varying level of government support, at local or national government levels, is to change perceptions of the nation or region by advertising it. It also leads to regeneration and infrastructure investment in the host areas – all things with good long term benefits that can be applied to the entire nation.

Empty seats

Organizers in Gabon had to hand out free tickets to fill stadia[1]. This not only makes the tournament appear unpopular to TV viewers, it reduces the revenues of the event.

It would be better for the sport if the Africa Cup of Nations was held in countries that are likely to sell out more of the matches; this means countries with bigger populations than Gabon and Equatorial Guinea that can pull in a domestic audience.

[1] Sport24, “Empty seats plague AFCON”, Sport 24, 2012,


Ticket sales, while good for revenue, are not crucial.  The African Cup of Nations has never been an event with large scale sellout crowds for every match like a World Cup.

Disposable incomes are lower in Africa compared to the rest of the world. This coupled with the vast size of the area covered by the confederation means lower numbers of travelling fans.  Expectations should be managed: the higher demand is for matches with the host team involved.  In the tournament the following year (held earlier due to CAF changing the years in which the tournament is held to odd years, to avoid clashes with World Cups and Olympics) in South Africa, the bronze medal match got 6,000 spectators[1].

Even the Olympics, when held in London, did not sell out every ticket for every football match, meaning some sections of seating were covered over[2].

[1] ESPN, “2013 African Nations Cup Fixtures and Results”, ESPN, 2013,

[2] Magnay, Jacquelin, “”London 2012 Olympics: 500,000 football tickets removed to ensure full stadiums [sic]”, The Telegraph, 2012,

Showcasing countries with poor human rights records

Allowing a country to host a major sporting event gives them a big boost in international prestige. Repressive regimes to not deserve this.

Equatorial Guinea, a dictatorship run by Teoodoro Obiang, is one of the world’s worst human rights offenders, with the worst possible scores for civil liberties and political rights according to Freedom House[1].

Gabon, while rated by Freedom House as better than Equatorial Guinea, also has a bad human rights record, with “harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, ritual killings, police use of excessive force, … widespread government corruption … and forced child labor [sic]”[2].

[1] Freedom House, “Equatorial Guinea”, Freedom House

[2] US State Department, Gabon 2012 Human Rights Report,


Few countries in Africa meet with approval on the part of Freedom House.

At any rate, sport and politics are supposed to be separate.  Also, human rights concerns could be advanced by placing these countries under the spotlight, rather than the usual position of them being ignored


African Economic Outlook, ‘Gabon Economic Outlook’, African Development Bank Group, accessed 28/1/2014,  Ballong, Stéphane, ‘Gabon’s 2012 CAN effect’, theafricareport, 7 December 2011,

Capstick, Alex, “Angola uses football to showcase economy”, BBC News, 2010,

ESPN, “2013 African Nations Cup Fixtures and Results”, ESPN, 2013,

Freedom House, “Equatorial Guinea”, Freedom House

Magnay, Jacquelin, “”London 2012 Olympics: 500,000 football tickets removed to ensure full stadiums [sic]”, The Telegraph, 2012,

Murphy, Chris, “African ambition: tiny nations host football feast”, CNN, 2012,

Ndenguino-Mpira, Hermanno, “The African Cup of Nations 2012 – China’s goals”, Centre for Chinese Studies, 23 January 2012,

NN, “Gabon”, African Economic Outlook, no date,

NN, “Africa Cup of Nations 2013 to boost SMEs in South Africa”, MSME News Network, 2013,

Reuters, ‘Fans go it alone at Africa Cup of Nations’, AlJazeera, 6 February 2012,   

Sands, Darren, “In South Africa, the African Cup of Nations is big business”, Black Enterprise, 2013,

Sport24, “Empty seats plague AFCON”, Sport 24, 2012,

US State Department, Gabon 2012 Human Rights Report,

World Bank, “World Development Indicators”, World Bank Databank,

Yilmaz, Cetin, “Gabon works hard for 2012 Cup of Nations”, Hurriyet Daily News,