In Cameroon, the “flagship stadium” of CAN 2022 is still not finished

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The Olembé stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in November 2021.

It should serve as a setting for the opening match of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) football which will take place from January 9 to February 6, 2022 in Cameroon. But, just two months from the launch of the competition, the Olembé stadium located in Yaoundé, the capital of the country, is still under construction.

On the site, employees are busy. Carpenters, plumbers, masons, mechanics… ” They work night and day, even on weekends », Indicates a guard posted at the entrance of the officials. Journalists, he continues, “ cannot enter, nor film without the minister’s agreement [des sports]. And even those who work indoors are prohibited from taking pictures. ».

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On this Saturday at the end of October, workers emerge from the main entrance for the lunch break. Nelson * is in a hurry. This plumber and his colleagues take care of ” check the hoses, replace those that do not hold, fix those that have not yet been “. To believe this employee with the contagious smile, ” things are progressing enormously and soon we will be finished », But he doesn’t know when exactly.

Same imprecision when questioning Roger *. This thirty-something with a beard for several days is part of the team that dresses, among other things, Placoplatre walls and ceilings ” since two months “. Will they have finished before the start of the CAN? ” I think so », He slips. According to Paul, a young mason working on certain access roads, “The chiefs said they were going to recruit other people to make things go quickly “. According to our information, dozens of people have been recruited ” backup And employees are working overtime.

“The most expensive stadium in Africa”

A site supervisor met on site and who wishes to remain anonymous says that everything is now being done to ” speed up the final works because Olembé is the flagship stadium, the sporting showcase of the CAN ”. The bleachers, the lawn, the main access routes … “Everything is almost ready, he assures. It is the finishing touches that take so much time. What we had to do for example in four months, we reduce it to two months or a month. We make the employees work at night because we are very late ”.

Cameroon’s difficulty in carrying out its infrastructure projects dedicated to the CAN is a long-term soap opera. As early as 2016, the Italian group Piccini was commissioned to build a sports complex made up, among other things, of a 60,000-seat stadium, an athletics track, an Olympic swimming pool, a gymnasium … within a period of thirty months with a view to of the 2019 African Cup of Nations.

The Olembé stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in August 2021.

But the delays followed one after another. All against the backdrop of accusations of corruption. The Cameroonian journalist and whistleblower Boris Bertolt denounced at the time overbilling, retrocommissions, embezzlement, for several billion CFA francs. No legal action has yet been taken.

Unable to keep its commitments, Cameroon is forced to give up the CAN in favor of Egypt. Piccini is ousted in favor of Magil Construction, a Canadian company. The amount of the work is now estimated at more than 160 billion CFA francs (more than 240 million euros), making Olembé ” the most expensive stadium in Africa According to many media. ” The government was too lax and administrative delays made the situation worse. From the start, the project was not taken seriously… It was poorly studied and poorly managed », Deplores a civil engineer who closely followed the case.

“Double or triple the workforce”

The framework agreement definitively confirming the holding of CAN 2022 in Cameroon was signed with the African Football Confederation (CAF) on October 22. However, the delivery of the first phase of the complex set for November 30, and including in particular the Olembé stadium, has not finished raising questions. On the site, the control teams dispatched by the government are back and forth incessantly. Hurry up.

« A lot of things are being said about Olembé but, by November 30, Magil Construction should be able to deliver all the spaces required for the organization of the CAN. “Wants to believe Gabriel Nloga, vice chair of the communications committee of the CAN Local Organizing Committee (Cocan) and spokesman for the Ministry of Sports, saying that if current employees can not” finish this job ” in a month, ” it will be essential to double or triple the workforce ”. On the infrastructure front, in general, “Everything is complete… We are 95% ready », He still assures.

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An opinion that does not seem to be shared by everyone. According to a government source, in addition to Olembé, “ mind puzzle ” which is a real eye-catcher, the construction work on the access road in Douala by the east or some hotel infrastructures in Garoua, in the north, which is to host matches of the competition, ” still have considerable delays “. In this phase of ” last adjustments and finishes », “We are reviewing everything in great detail”, underlines our source, evoking “Roads in poor condition, hospitals not provided or safety in host cities ».

In Yaoundé, in the bars located around the Olembé stadium, employees sip beers while picking up their afternoon tasks: vehicles to be repaired, earthen trucks to transport, access roads to be embellished, work in progress on the air conditioning system… Eric *, one of the managers of a service provider, has made his calculations: “ at least a month and a half or two months with a multiplied staff to do what remains to be done “. Eric doesn’t have time to say more. His phone rings. ” Another emergency on the site, he sighs. But, despite the delays, Olembé will be a great stadium in the end. I don’t play politics. I am a football fan and proud to work here. “

* The first names have been changed.