African Nations Cup may be a tough ask for foreign visitors

January 8, 2010

SOCCER-AFRICA/NATIONSHosting major sports events is usually seen as a golden opportunity to showcase the country, improve the infrastructure and attract foreign visitors. Angola, which has spent an estimated $1 billion to stage this month’s African Nations Cup, seems to be an exception.

Rather perversely, the former Portuguese colony appears to be doing little to help foreign visitors get in. From my own experience, Angola has not eased its byzantine visa regulations for would-be Nations Cup visitors. Accredited journalists are among those who have missed out because the promised Letter of Invitation from the organising committee — necessary to get the treasured visa — was either sent too late or went to the embassy in the wrong country.

As for visiting fans, they may as well forget it unless they started planning a long time ago. Normal visa applications can take three months to process, even if the applicant manages to satisfy all criteria (and it’s not always clear what they are). One embassy official in Berne, Switzerland, demanded a swine flu vaccination. When told that previous host nations had been more accommodating, she said proudly:  “But this is Angola.”

Fans from Zambia are lucky, though – they are the only ones of the 15 visiting teams who do not need visas.

But, even if supporters manage to get into the country, where would they stay and how would they get around? Luanda has no taxi service and almost no buses – just notoriously reckless and overcrowded minivans called “candongeiros”.

Overland travel is deemed inadvisable and a worrying number of Angolan airlines feature on the European Union’s safety blacklist. The country has a chronic shortage of hotels, which are booked up months in advance even when the there are no international football tournaments being staged.

The whole scenario will do little to counter the feeling some voiced at the last edition two years ago, that the Nations Cup is run for officials rather than players and fans. Claude LeRoy was coach of host nation Ghana then and the Frenchman (now with Oman) suggested more effort had been put into the seats for visiting dignitaries than the pitch at Accra’s main stadium. “The first thing is not the quality of the armchair in the VIP room but it is the quality of the pitch,” he said. 

Little seems to have changed since then.

PHOTO: A logo of the African Cup of Nations is pictured in Luanda, January 7, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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Just keep in mind those “byzantine visa regulations” work both ways, for non-EU or third world nationals wanting to visit your part of the world.
On the other hand, the attack on Togo’s party shows this tournament never should have been given to a country embroiled in civil strife. One must now wonder what we should expect in South Africa, given its violent crime rate.

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