TRIPOLI: Libya is pushing hard to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, a chance to showcase the footballing prowess of its youth and mark a return to normal times in a country plagued by post-revolutionary unrest.
The North African country was to host the 2013 tournament but the revolution which overthrew Moamer Qadhafi two years ago saw South Africa step in, ahead of its scheduled hosting of the 2017 event.
Libya’s deputy premier and head of its organizing committee, Awad al-Baraassi, says his oil-rich country is “determined” to step back in and host the tournament on its 60th anniversary, using “all its resources” to ensure success.
The task is a tall order, however, with Libyan authorities struggling to impose law and order in a country still plagued by insecurity and violence.
Youth and Sports Minister Abdessalem Ghulia says hosting the 2017 tournament would be the ideal opportunity to usher in a new era of post-conflict normality in Libya. “Organising the Africa Cup will show a return to normal life across the country and the launch of development projects,” he said. “It’s not only a sports event but an opportunity to move on from revolution to reconstruction of the state,” he said, appealing for both the public and private sectors to join in the “national project”.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan insists that security holds the key. “Nobody will come to us if security is not restored,” Zeidan said, calling for unity against violence and for the disbanding of militias which spread insecurity across the country.
The authorities have launched a charm campaign to convince the Confederation of African Football (CAF) they can host the high-profile event, bringing in Mustafa Abdel Jalil, a former footballer who led the anti-Qadhafi revolt.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the CAF president, Issa Hayatou, have given their support for Libya to host the 2017 championship, according to the organising committee.
Libya would host matches in three cities: Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi.
Organisers say the matches would be played in six stadiums, two of them to be built in Tripoli with a seating capacity of 60,000 and 22,000 and one in Misrata for 23,000 spectators.
A CAF delegation is expected to visit Tripoli and Benghazi later this month to check on the infrastructure and security situation in the country, the youth and sports ministry said.
The delegation also has to decide on whether international competitions can be held in Libya, suspended since 2011 in a country where the football federation was previously run by Qadhafi’s family.