Millions of African soccer fans dream of being at the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) to support their national teams, but not everyone can afford to do so.
As it turns out, even those who can afford it are constrained by the infamous difficulties Africans face when they travel within the continent as Nigerian soccer fans and journalists are finding out with visa applications to travel to Egypt, host nation of AFCON.
Despite applying within the required time-frame and having the necessary media accreditation from Africa’s soccer governing body, several journalists remain stranded without visas even after the tournament has kicked off.
“It’s taking longer to process than they promised,” says the CEO of a Lagos-based sports media and marketing firm who chose not to be named to avoid jeopardizing his pending visa application. “I went through an accredited agent, put in my passport and required documentation five days before the tournament started and paid the required fees but the passport is still not out.”
Some of the delay is attributed to the Egyptian consulate working short hours without changing its processes to accommodate for increased applications. As a result, some sports journalists and fans hoping to apply have reported facing long queues at the Egyptian consulate in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. These difficulties reinforce the notion that it’s often much easier for North Americans to travel within Africa than it is for Africans, as Quartz Africa has reported.
There’s a strong possibility these visa difficulties are also being experienced by fans in other countries as well especially as Egypt has not adopted any special visa procedures for fans during the AFCON. Some evidence of that is seen with match attendance numbers: while the first game featuring hosts, Egypt was played in front of a nearly sold out crowd, games that have followed have been marked by large swathes of empty seats in stadiums.
In fairness, governments across Africa are attempting to ease travel restrictions across the continent, agreeing to both a Continental Free Trade Agreement and a Single Air Transport Market over the past 18 months. Countries like Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia and Namibia have also relaxed their visa rules for Africans but, regardless, achieving full Africa-wide integration remains a work in progress as a majority of Africans still require visas to travel across most of the continent.
As a temporary workaround in light of the African Cup of Nations and heightened interest from African applicants, Egypt should have learned from Russia when it hosted the 2018 World Cup, the Lagos-based executive says.
During the FIFA World Cup last year, Russia allowed visa-free entry for fans and supporters if they obtained fan identification documents and showed proof of purchasing a match ticket. “Tournaments generally always come with special dispensation because naturally, there will be an influx especially from citizens of countries that qualified,” he says. “Hosts should make special arrangements that speak to the moment.”
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