The mythical Félix Houphouët-Boigny stadium, scheduled to host matches at the 2023 AFCON, to be held in Côte d'Ivoire in January 2024, is yet to be delivered.
The Stade Houphouët-Boigny is still under construction with 5 months to go before the AFCON.
Approaching the main entrance to the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan's fashionable Plateau district, from both Place de République and the Palais de Justice, the scene is the same. It hasn't changed on August 21, 2023. Excavators keep digging. The rubble and other materials littering the parking lots outside the main entrance can be seen from hundreds of metres away. As can the deafening noise of the machines running at full speed, day and night. A light rain is falling in Abidjan this morning, but it doesn't affect the daily routine.
On the construction site of the Stade Houphouët-Boigny, the economic capital's 2nd stadium after the one in Ebimpé (Anyama), workers are hard at work to get the "Felicia", as it is nicknamed, back up and running. And ready for the great mass of African football in January 2024. Unlike the country's other stadiums, this one is behind schedule. Refurbishment work began on November 20, 2020. It was scheduled to take 18 months.And 22 months later, the work has still not been completed. CAF, through Adamo Samson, its Director of Competitions, had given the umpteenth deadline of August 15 to begin branding the sports infrastructure.That was on July 11, when the Ebimpé stadium was visited.
But still nothing. Some tongues are wagging that it will be ready just before the AFCON, with no further details on the delivery date. The fact is, it's hard to say today when the stadium will actually be ready. While the roofing, exterior painting, turf, bleachers and, to a lesser extent, the changing rooms are almost complete, the parking lots, VIP rooms and other facilities are still to be finished. The parking lots, VIP rooms, media zone and, above all, the brand-new tunnel at the entrance and the basement for the coaches are still under construction at the Stade Houphouët-Boigny. This does little to reassure Ivorians, despite all their hopes. Worse still, it's easier to find a needle in a haystack than to get official information about the stadium."No sir please, you can't take pictures. We don't have anything to say either. Please, you don't have a helmet you're not allowed to be here," we were rebuffed by a worker we spoke to. This was more or less expected.
The omerta of official sources
For fear of saying the wrong thing or exposing the flaws in the system, none of the workers at the Stade Houphouët-Boigny site want to talk .We asked to meet the site manager. Instead, we were politely asked to leave."There's no need to worry. The stadium will be ready on time.All that's left is the embellishment work and the industrial cleaning", said a source at the Ministry of Sports. We were nonetheless able to obtain some confidences from a source privy to the matter."If this stadium had been completely destroyed and a new one built in its place, everything would have been different.In this case, the company in charge of the works was obliged to leave the foundations, stands and pitch as they were built in the 50s (1952, editor's note) in order to dig a basement. This required a great deal of redevelopment and therefore financial resources. To put it plainly, all this meant that the budget had to be extended. And you know that when the money isn't disbursed on time, because there are other projects underway in Abidjan, things inevitably drag on before speeding up once the money is made available.
Despite the fact that employees are on the job day and night, there's still a lot to be done to get the stadium up to standard and ready. But things are speeding up in the right direction", says the technician, who insisted on remaining anonymous so as not to lose his job at the Bureau national d'études techniques et de développement (Bnetd), which is piloting the work alongside the Office national des sports (ONS).
Of the six 2023 Stadia, three - the Stade Olympique Alassane Ouattara Ebimpé, the Stade Charles Konan Banny in Yamoussoukro and the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké - have already hosted soccer matches. The Laurent Pokou stadium in San Pedro will host the 6th and final day of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers between Côte d'Ivoire and Lesotho on September 9, 2023. The Stade Amadou Gon in Korhogo and, of course, the Felicia have never yet been tested. For that, we'll have to wait until October or November, with the Women's Champions League scheduled to take place in Côte d'Ivoire. And all this just a month before the African Cup of Nations.