With the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations draw set to be held in Senegal today, Wednesday 29 May, Fox Sports Africa sat down with Frank Rutten, who is the Executive Vice President for Fox Sports Europe and Africa.
Fox Sports Africa (FSA):
The first WAFU Cup of Nations, under the FOX banner, took place in Ghana in 2017 – what did you make of that event? What were some of the highlights for you?
Frank Rutten (FR):
The ultimate highlight was definitely the final. The stadium was packed, people were even standing on hills outside of the stadium to catch a glimpse of the match. The atmosphere was really unbelievable, and with Ghana playing Nigeria we had everything you want a final to be. Looking at the tournament as a whole you really saw good quality football where every team wanted to be at their best and every player was there trying to make a difference.
Check out the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations section
FSA: There was certainly some beautiful football played at the 2017 event with the host country winning. Which team was your favourite and why? Did you have any favourite players?
I didn’t really have a favourite team. All 16 countries are our partners and therefore my favourites. The player I will always remember is the goalkeeper from Nigeria, Ikechukwu Ezenwa. I remember him because of how he celebrated, where he was sat on the grass and then bumped his way forward on his bottom.
What did you learn from the 2017 WAFU Cup of Nations event that helped FOX better prepare for this year’s upcoming event in Senegal?
We saw that teams would love to play at least two matches, that’s why we changed the format. Teams will now play a minimum of two matches and a maximum of four, where in Ghana it was a minimum of one match and a maximum of five matches. So this event will be more balanced.
FSA: What have been some of the hardest challenges in the build-up to this year’s ev
ent and how have you overcome them?
I think some work still needs to be done to get the stadium in Thies ready to host the event, but I’m confident the LOC (Local Organising Committee) and government will do everything needed to have it all in place when the events starts.
Senegal is certainly a beautiful host country – how did the selection process take place for the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations? And how did FOX decide on Senegal?
We asked all countries from Zone A and B if they wanted to host one of the next two WAFU Cup of Nations events. Senegal and Nigeria put themselves forward, so in the end it wasn’t very difficult. What also helped is that it is easy to access with the new airport and which country had the sufficient facilities to host this kind of an event.
FSA: During the 2017 event in Ghana the majority of games (bar two) were played at the same venue, the Cape Coast Stadium. Will that be the same in Senegal and if so, why have FOX chosen to do it that way?
Yes it will be. This time, though, all the matches will be played at one venue since there are no group stages. It is a beautiful stadium called Stade Lat Dior in Thies. The reason we choose to have only one location is because it makes the most sense from a logistics point of view, but also because we wanted to have a venue that has the size needed to host such an important event without being too big like the national stadium. Even though the national stadium was no real option since is closed and under reconstruction now. Another big advantage is that people will now have an opportunity to see two matches in a row on the same day.
What is the ultimate goal FOX would like to achieve with the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations?
To further build on the success of the first event which we did together with the two zones, and hopefully bring the same quality of football to an even bigger live TV audience. Although that will be a challenge since the final last time was watched by over 100 million people live, but we are up for it and believe we can achieve it.
There are a number of great teams taking part at the event, who is you favourite to win the 2019 WAFU Cup of Nations and why?
Of course I cannot favour one team more than any other, but I truly hope Senegal will have a good tournament, because I’m sure that is also what the Senegalese audience would want.