By James M. Dorsey
Libya has agreed to withdraw as host of the 2013 African Cup of Nations in favour of South Africa ss rebels hunt for Colonel Moammar Qaddafi and the country heads for a prolonged and possibly messy transition to democracy.
The South African Football Association (SAFA) said in a statement that it had signed an agreement to that effect with its Libyan counterpart.
SAFA said that South Africa had effectively swapped hosting dates with Libya. In return for withdrawing from the 2013 tournament, SAFA said that the troubled North African nation would host the 2017 games that originally had been awarded to South Africa.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) had been pressuring Libya to recognize earlier rather than later that it may not be able to host the 2013 Cup so that a replacement could be found in a timely fashion.
CAF wanted to avoid a repeat of the scramble in April when South Africa agreed to host at the last minute the African Youth Championship, which had originally been scheduled to take place in Libya.
SAFA said the swap with Libya would have to be confirmed by CAF’s executive committee which is scheduled to meet in Cairo on Sept. 28.
"All the issues regarding 2013 will be discussed at the end of September. The issues regarding 2013 will definitely be discussed by the executive committee and decisions on tournament hosting can only be made by the executive committee,” ," CAF spokesman Suleiman Habuba said..
The agreement between South Africa and Libya furthermore covers the 2014 African Nations Cup, a tournament for emerging players, which was also to be hosted by Libya.
It was not immediately clear who signed the agreement on behalf of the Libyan association. The Libyan soccer body was headed by Mr. Qaddafi’s soccer-playing son, Al Saadi Al Qaddafi, whose whereabouts are unclear. Al Saadi was reported earlier this week to have been captured by the rebels after they entered the capital of Tripoli.
By signing the agreement, South Africa hopes to pre-empt Algeria and Nigeria, which are also lobbying to replace Libya. Egypt was initially interested but said later that it was not a candidate. South Africa hopes to capitalize on the fact that it has the infrastructure and experience in place following last year’s World Cup.
The agreement between South Africa and Libya could pose a problem for CAF, which in 2006 agreed with Nigeria that it would have the right to step in if any of the Nations Cup hosts named that year were unable to fulfil their commitments.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.