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in the fan-zones, another CAN-2022 experience

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On the occasion of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), which takes place until February 6 in Cameroon, CAF has set up six fan-zones across the country for football fans who do not have not the opportunity to go to the stadiums. Report in that of downtown Yaoundé.

Live the collective experience of African Cup of Nations without going to the stadiums, this is the principle of fan-zones, these spaces where people come to vibrate around football without being at the heart of the events. For CAN-2022 to benefit Cameroon’s 28 million people, the African Football Confederation (CAF) has set up six official zones across the country, to which are added a multitude of smaller and unofficial ones offering spectators who want a place to commune together.

Opposite the Yaoundé town hall, in the Tsinga district, one of these spaces stamped CAF has opened. It is built on a huge roundabout, around a stele commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this hectare, giant screens, stands, food stands and small shops in honor of the 24 nations competing in the African Cup.

“Today, Gabon and Burkina Faso are playing. It’s rather calm and we can move around. But if you come on a day when it’s the Indomitable Lions… On the day of the opening match, there were 11,000 people!”, explains the general commissioner of the site, Malet Mal Njam.

Malet Mal Njam, the fan-zone manager.
Malet Mal Njam, the fan-zone manager. © Allaoua Meziani, France 24

“Cameroon is a country of football”

Cameroon jersey on the shoulders, Christine Essomba, 30, discovers the initiative with her friends during a drink.

“I didn’t know this place existed, but now I’m going to come back every day. The atmosphere is nice, there are people, emotion”, explains the young woman, installed closer to the giant screen . “Everyone watches CAN in our families, but I prefer to be on the street, in bars to experience the emotions. It’s much more alive.”

Christine came to discover the fan-zone with her friends.
Christine came to discover the fan-zone with her friends. © Allaoua Meziani, France 24

“We’ve been waiting for the CAN to take place in Cameroon for eight years. I’m not a big fan of football, but since it’s the African Cup and it takes place in my country, I want to take advantage of everything that is going to happen. Eight years that we have been waiting for it”, enthuses Christine, who, in the absence of Cameroon, encourages Burkina Faso against Gabon.

A few tables away, Elvis Ondo Nkoulou is installed with his brothers. This 41-year-old Gabonese came from Libreville to encourage the Panthers. The small group dressed in yellow, green and blue enjoy the round of 16 by drinking a local beer, the pride of Cameroon. After seeing Gabon’s first three games at the Ahmadou-Ahidjo stadium in Yaoundé, he had to fall back on the fan-zone for the next round, his Panthers having been sent to Limbé for their first match.

“The fan zone is well organized. There is food and drink. It’s very nice. Even if the stadium is still something else!”, smiles the Gabonese. “Cameroon is a football country. I knew the atmosphere was going to be friendly.”

For CAN-2022, the Gabonese landed in force in their Cameroonian neighbor.
For CAN-2022, the Gabonese landed in force in their Cameroonian neighbor. © Allaoua Meziani, France 24

“People come here to be together. We have a lot of foreigners looking for a place to watch the AFCON. On the weekends, people come to spend some family time with their children. The rest of the time, it’s often rather well-to-do people aged 25-30 who settle here to relax after work”, notes Malet Mal Njam. “Young people don’t come too much. They prefer freer places with fewer rules. Everyone has their own way of partying.”

“There are days when we fight for customers”

For merchants, this initiative is also an opportunity to do good business and showcase their restaurant. Almost a third of the surface of the fan-zone is occupied by these eateries where meat and fish are grilled on huge barbecues. You can sit at a table on the stand and follow the match on one of the small screens or be served on one of the hundreds of tables set up between the grandstand and the giant screen.

“Business is good during the CAN, but especially when Cameroon are playing,” said Marie Josiane, 38, who works in one of these stands. “On the other hand, on other days, we fight a little for the customers…”

Marie Josiane in the stand where she works
Marie Josiane in the stand where she works © Allaoua Meziani, France 24

“Personally, I’m not too much into football but I watch because it’s in my country. And I support everyone! Cameroon, Morocco, Gabon…”, she says with a fair smile. play and trader.

Stands in the colors of each country

One of CAF’s wishes with this Yaoundé fan-zone was to honor the crafts of the 24 participating countries. Thus, a mini-Africa was reconstituted. Mariam holds the stand for Algeria, a country of which she continues to consider herself a citizen despite being born in Cameroon to an Algerian father and a Libyan mother. In his shop decorated with the Algerian flag, you can buy fabrics typical of the country of the Fennecs and the Maghreb. She sells them with her 13-year-old daughter Amina.

“This fan zone is a great idea because it brings people together around football. For me, it’s an opportunity to sell my merchandise. To have a stand in the colors of Algeria, I had to go ask for permission from the Algerian embassy,” she explains.

Mariam in her Algeria shop.
Mariam in her Algeria shop. © Allaoua Meziani, France 24

The one who has dual Algerian and Cameroonian nationality hoped to see Algeria come to play in Yaoundé in the quarter-finals, but the surprise elimination of the defending champion in the first round decided otherwise.

“On the day of the match against Côte d’Ivoire, I was in this fan zone supporting them, alone against the Cameroonian crowd who had won over to the Ivorian cause. I was saddened, but it is the law of the game. sports,” she recalls. “Today, I tell myself that if Cameroon wins the cup, I will be happy. But that will never equal the joy of seeing Algeria win.”

A success explained by the slightest health restrictions?

For the general commissioner of the site, the lighter and less restrictive sanitary controls in the fan-zone contribute to its success. “We have this sprawling monster that is the Covid-19 which weighed on this CAN. At the beginning, people did not come because there was a misunderstanding at this level. It has since been dispelled”, explains Malet Mal Njam. Indeed, to go to the stadium, the Cameroonian government has decided jointly with CAF that each spectator should have started their vaccination cycle and have a negative test. In the fan-zone, although tests are offered at the entrance, “we walk on trust”, assures the person in charge of the place.

“We must make our people understand that these imperatives are not simply imposed by an external authority but are necessary for health issues”, continues Malet Mal Njam. “It’s not ‘hands down’. We try to be more educational.”

For its quarter-final, Cameroon will play outside the capital for the first time. While the Indomitable Lions will be in Douala on Saturday January 29 to face Gambia, there is no doubt that the Yaoundé fan zone should still be full to encourage the national team.

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