AFCON 2023 final to be played in a China-sponsored stadium

As the curtains draw to a close on the scintillating AFCON 2023, football fans are eager to see who lifts the trophy. On Sunday, it will be either a third for the host nation Ivory Coast or a fourth for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Two sets of expectant fans are waiting anxiously for the big kickoff on Sunday. But among those who will be patting themselves on the back regardless of who wins the final is a country far away from Africa. China is the big winner apart from whoever takes the historic trophy on the night.

China is the big celebrant apart from the host and the country that will emerge champion on the night. Far away in Asia, China is at the centre of Africa’s biggest football festival. But how? China has a hand in three of the six stadiums that are hosting matches at the tournament. The three stadiums combined served as venues for 25 AFCON 2023 matches including the final between Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

The Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé, known officially as the Alassane Ouattara Stadium will host the final match between the two West African football lords. In five host cities, AFCON 2023 was played in six stadiums. Three of the six stadiums are either designed or built by China.

More AFCON 2023 stadiums, more Chinese footprints

Apart from the magnificent venue at Ebimpé which hosted both the opening match and is set to host the final on Sunday, there are two others. The 20,000 seater capacity Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro is also a Chinese footprint that graced African football’s biggest stars’ feet. With a huge price tag of $107.5 million, the stadium hosted eight matches. One of those matches was South Africa’s famous 2-0 defeat of Morocco in the Round of 16 which welcomed 19,078 spectators.

Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro hosted 8 AFCON 2023 matches
Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro hosted 8 AFCON 2023 matches

The third stadium with Chinese history is the 20,000-seater Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium stadium in Korhogo. Built by the China National Building Material, the stadium hosted five of Group E’s six matches, one from Group F and the epic Round of 16 clash between Burkina Faso and Mali. That last match attracted a record 19,184 spectators.

Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo hosted 7 AFCON 2023 matches
Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo Photo: CAF

Olympic Stadium of Ebimpé, centre of AFCON 2023

The biggest of all the stadiums and the most iconic of all the China-funded projects for the tournament, the stadium is an architectural masterpiece. It is estimated to have set back its financiers by $257 million. China International Development Cooperation Agency (China Aid) provided $40.6 million of the total amount. Known as the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, it was designed by the Beijing Institute Architectural Design and built by Beijing and Constructor Group as the main contractor.

So far, the magnificent edifice has hosted nine matches including the semi-final tie between Ivory Coast and DR Congo which saw the former advanced to the finals via a 1-0 victory. The highest attendance so far is 51,020 but that number could be upped to near full capacity when the Elephants host the Super Eagles on Sunday, February 11.

Speaking during a diplomatic visit to the Ivory Coast, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the venues are “symbols of mutually beneficial cooperation”.

So while it is an African football festival and has no Chinese representation on the pitch, the soul and breath of the tournament do not exist without China. Next is AFCON 2025 in Morocco, will we see a similar trend of Chinese influence? There is already the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat and is likely to play a key role in hosting the next AFCON.

But China’s influence in sports does not end in these two countries as China has a hand in sports facilities in more than half of all African countries. The last AFCON in Cameroon saw two-Chinese built stadiums; Kouekong Stadium and the Limbe Omnisport Stadium host some of the matches.

So, could a future AFCON be possibly played in all-Chinese-backed stadiums?

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