Isha Johansen explains reasons for Caf cancellation of 2020 Africa Women's Cup of Nations

Nigeria Women, Super Falcons
The Caf top official and Sierra Leone football association boss speaks up on the scrapping of this year's showpiece a few days ago

Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) president Isha Johansen has revealed that 'all options were explored' by Caf before the decision to cancel the 2020 Africa Women's Cup of Nations.

After three months of football suspension owing to Covid-19, the African football governing body announced the scrapping of the 2020 Awcon following its Executive Committee meeting on June 30.

This means the women's showpiece held every two-years since 1998 will not take place for the first time, having staged the last edition in Ghana in 2018 which came as a rude shock to fans.

Following the outrage and continental-wide condemnation, the 55-year-old, who doubles as the chairperson of the Caf Organizing Committee for Women’s Football has offered an explanation.

"Women's football means a lot to Caf and we take pride, not only in the fact that we have women's football on our calendar but also the fact that we are actually facing these challenges head-on," Johansen said in an interview with Caf made available to Goal.

"We are making great strives to change these narratives. For the 2020 Africa Women's Cup of Nations, there were circumstances beyond our control which made it difficult for Caf to organize it and all options were explored but to no avail."

In July 2019, Congo pulled out of hosting the 2020 Awcon, leaving the event without a host before the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 despite interests from Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.

A week later, Caf announced the expansion of the tournament from eight to 12 teams after 11 editions, starting from 2020 before a record total of 36 entries for the qualification series in December.

With the qualifiers earlier slated for April 2020, the global health crisis forced an indefinite postponement and subsequent cancellation, which the administrator has now offered reasons for.

"For the three main reasons, we did not have an option than to cancel it. Firstly, the withdrawal of Congo meant that we look for a new host," she continued.

"The bid was reopened and we received bids from Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. However, both bids lacked the most important support documents which were the letter of support from their respective governments.

"If you cannot get a letter of support from your government to host countries, it becomes quite complex and problematic in the long run because we cannot organise the competition without the support or guarantee from the host country coming from the government.

"Secondly, the outbreak of Covid-19 which we all know led to the suspension of all football activities around the continent and indeed the rest of the world. Due to that fact, the qualifiers initially scheduled for April 2020 had to be postponed indefinitely.

"With the women's Afcon being a senior women's national team competition, we could only schedule the matches based on the Fifa calendar dates which were also affected by Covid-19. Again, due to Covid-19, the calendar was revised and left us with two window opportunities being in September and October for qualifiers.

"We had the closure of borders across the continent and so, it was very unlikely we will be able to honour these matches within these window opportunity dates taking into consideration the travel restrictions and we also have the U17 and U20 Women's World Cup qualifiers which have to be completed this year."

No gainsaying the cancellation, the news was greeted with dismay by numerous fans, as well as top African stars, including Ajara Nchout and Asisat Oshoala, who took to social media to question the move.

And Johansen also shared in their disappointment with the truncation of the 2020 event while offering strong assurance of better days ahead for women's football on their continent.

"As you can see, it's not the case of not being able to meet all the expectations of people or that we just decided to take an easy way out to cancel the women's Afcon 2020 just because it's women's football but because of some very obvious reasons totally beyond our control," she enthused.

"As I've listed, there were options that we went over and over again to see how best we could accommodate but we just couldn't. For the shock news to fans, I understand how disappointing this could be, again, everyone needs to understand that it is based on the current global situation.

"It's got nothing to do with another agenda other than the fact that we simply cannot hold the competition during abnormal times that we have now. Caf, as you know and may not, has even allocated some substantial amount to support to the host country to stage the final tournament but no country is being forthcoming yet because of the Covid-19 which has disrupted every single economy in the world.

"You cannot go and impose a competition on a country to host if they are not ready. It has to be a collective decision and it also has to be organised under conducive circumstances and no country is operating under normal circumstances. These are abnormal times.

"When we do host these competitions, you want your current competition to outdo the last one and get one better than the other. Ghana was a hugely successful competition and, so why host something that is going to be probably limited or second-best or really not good at all only to be criticized as to why did we go ahead with knowing full well there were challenges.

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"I think that it is best that we leave it as it is. We still monitor and plan for better days ahead. We are planning and at the same time, we have been looking for the host of the 2022 Awcon which will also serve as the qualifier for the 2023 Women's World Cup. Even though the decision is not good news, of course, it gives us time to reflect and plan.

"The good news is that women's football is going to bounce back in style and get better. We've got Covid-19 but it does not mean we will become a defunct or abnormal feature if we like our sport.

"Certain challenges in life are there to strengthen you and to make you get better, especially when you're able to rise above these situations and that's what is happening with women's football during this Covid-19."