African football the latest victim of Ebola
NEW YORK — Fear of the spread of Ebola has now thrown Africa’s most important football tournament into disarray, after Morocco was removed on Tuesday (yesterday morning, Singapore time) as host of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and expelled from participating in the biennial championship after it sought to delay the 16-team event, concerned about a spread of the virus.
No replacement host has yet been named for the three-week tournament, which is scheduled to take place from Jan 17 to Feb 8.
The expulsion of Morocco was announced by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which accused Moroccan officials of being alarmist in wanting to delay the Cup of Nations by six months or a year.
Ebola has not been detected in Morocco, the organisation noted recently. Relatively few visiting fans were expected for the Cup of Nations; the scheduled dates fit within a window on the world football calendar, and a postponement could be financially crippling to the regional governing body, the confederation said.
Also, none of the three West African nations hit hardest by the Ebola epidemic — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — has so far qualified for the 2015 Cup.
Liberia exited in the preliminary qualifying rounds. Sierra Leone is in last place in its group with two qualifying matches remaining this month. Guinea is tied for third in its four-team group and has a chance to qualify for the tournament. It has been allowed to host some qualifying matches in Casablanca, Morocco, with another match scheduled there next Wednesday.
Still, Moroccan officials, even under the threat of being barred from the Cup of Nations, held firm to their refusal to host the tournament finals as scheduled because of the possibility of a spread of Ebola. Morocco had wanted the Cup delayed until June 2015 or early 2016.
“This decision is motivated mainly by the medical risks that would put this virus on the health of our fellow Africans,” Mohamed Ouzzine, Morocco’s Sports Minister, said in a statement over the weekend.
It remains unclear whether the tournament will proceed as scheduled or be delayed.
The CAF said it was reviewing some applications from countries seeking to host the Cup of Nations on the scheduled dates, but it did not name them.