While visiting Burkina Faso in August, the head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said Cameroon still needed "to convince CAF of its ability to host" the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. For CAF president Ahmad, who uses only one name, it was his clearest indication that Cameroon could lose its right to host the tournament.
But in an interview with VOA's French to Africa Service, Ahmad softened his position, now saying he never wanted to "strip" Cameroon of the Cup.
Here are highlights of the interview, translated from French:
VOA: On the 2019 AFCON, you recently supported Cameroon, the host country of the competition. Does this definitely end the controversy?
Ahmad: I have never said that 2019 AFCON was being withdrawn from Cameroon. I am a president who succeeds another administration. There are certain rules that must be respected, but CAF's current managers and I are uncompromising with respect to the specifications. We have reviewed our specifications and if Cameroon meets all the requirements, there is no issue.
But I have said, and I repeat, that at the time I made that statement [in Ouagadougou last August], Cameroon was not ready. Proof is that 24 hours after those comments, the Cameroonian political authorities signed the contract with companies to build the infrastructures. A few weeks later, the government set up the organizing committee. As CAF president, had I not the right to be worried?"
VOA: Did your remarks spur progress in Cameroon?
Ahmad: ... There has been progress and evolution since my intervention. Today, in Cote d'Ivoire, for example, the organizing committee for 2021 AFCON was set up. This is a country that is already ahead of us. But my remarks were necessary and many Cameroonians thanked me for this.
VOA: Did your meeting in Kinshasa with [Cameroonian football star] Samuel Eto'o help to calm matters on the case of 2019 AFCON vis-à-vis Cameroon?
Ahmad: I thank Samuel for his involvement. He may not come, nor ask for CAF, but his initiative is very commendable. He is probably someone with the same interests as us today. It is a cordial relationship, not only for the CAF, but also for reorganizing Cameroonian football.
VOA:2018 CHAN [African Nations Championship] has been given to Morocco to replace Kenya. Is this also a way to support a potential Moroccan bid for the 2026 World Cup?
Ahmad: Being president of the CAF means I have the responsibility to ensure that the AFCON and CHAN are in line with our current policy, and for 2026, one of my countries is a candidate. Africa is one of the four main continents of football and among the first two in terms of number of members. In a century of competition, only once has the World Cup been organized in Africa, so it is perfectly legitimate and logical that Africa is calling for the organization for 2026, 16 years after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
VOA: What do you think of Nigeria and Egypt being the first African countries to qualify for the 2018 World Cup?
Ahmad: Congratulations to these two great soccer nations. We will see what CAF can do in preparing and supporting these two countries with the three future qualifiers, the federations, and the authorities of these countries. I hope African countries can go as far as possible in this competition.