Ebola could push Morocco out of 2015 AFCON finals
Harare – The Ebola outbreak could force Morocco to withdraw from hosting the 2015 African Nations Cup finals while wreaking havoc the preparations for the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup, as concerns over the haemorrhagic virus grow around the globe.
The Moroccan football authorities, taking a cue from concerns expressed by the country’s health authorities, have petitioned the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to move the 2015 Nations Cup from January next year.
The Moroccans are worried that a huge influx of footballers, officials and supporters from all over the continent, including some from the West African hotbeds where Ebola has killed thousands of people and continues to explode, could put their country’s health at risk.
Morocco is heavily dependent on tourism receipts and an Ebola outbreak in that country could have devastating consequences on this nation’s capacity to continue attracting tourists to its beaches, crippling a huge part of their foreign currency generation capacity.
Africa’s biggest football festival has never been postponed since the first tournament in 1957 and the request by the Moroccans, coupled with the response by CAF that the tournament will not be postponed, has set the stage for a possible fallout between the hosts and the continent’s football governing body.
Last week, CAF made it clear that they will not postpone the tournament.
“The Confederation Africaine de Football on Friday, 10 October 2014, received a request from the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Kingdom of Morocco,” CAF said in a statement.
“The letter was seeking a deferral of the schedule of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2015 fixed for 17 January to 8 February, due to the Ebola outbreak.
“CAF has registered the request and wishes to state that there are no changes of the schedules of its competitions and events.
“CAF has also been cautious since the commencement of the final round qualifiers of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations Morocco 2015 on the health risks posed by the Ebola virus and has consistently applied precautionary principles, taking into account the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and various medical experts.”
CAF, however, said the request by the Moroccans will be discussed at their executive meeting in Algiers, Algeria, on November 2, after the second leg of the 2014 Champions League final showdown between ES Setif and AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The next day, CAF president Issa Hayatou will lead a delegation to Morocco to meet the country’s football and health authorities where they will examine the report that has been prepared by the country’s health authorities about the dangers of hosting the 2015 Nations Cup finals in January while the Ebola outbreak is still to be contained.
If there is a stalemate, sources say, Morocco could withdraw from hosting the football event.
Last month, the Morocco government commissioned a detailed report into how hosting the finals from January 17 to February 8 could leave the kingdom reeling from an Ebola outbreak.
Medical experts compiled a report that forced the football authorities to have second thoughts on hosting the tournament in January next year, in the cities of Rabat, Marrakech, Tangiers and Agadir.
Interestingly, Morocco has been hosting Guinea’s 2015 Nations Cup qualifiers, after the CAF leaders moved games from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but hosting a team largely made of players from their bases in Europe, is different from hosting thousands of players, officials and fans from across the continent, with a huge chunk of them coming from West Africa.
The Moroccan authorities recently refused to grant a Norwegian airline, with a confirmed Ebola patient on board, a 30-year-old doctor working for Doctors Without Borders who had contracted the virus in Guinea, rights to land in that country after the captain tried to stock his food and fuel.
The 2014 FIFA Club World Cup, set for Morocco, has also come under scrutiny and matters could come to a head if AS Vita, who hails from the DRC where cases of Ebola have been reported, wins the CAF ticket to represent Africa.
In Argentina, media has been awash with stories about whether San Lorenzo, who qualified to represent South America in the FIFA Club World Cup, and their fans should travel to Morocco for the tournament.
“The doubt only exists in the Press. Neither FIFA nor the organisers in Morocco ever had a doubt,” Morocco’s ambassador to Argentina, Fouad Yazourh, told the Argentina sports daily, Ole.
“In fact, there have been no cases of Ebola in my country. There are cases some thousands of kilometres away. But people don’t know geography.
“In Morocco, we are taking preventive measures, due to the human ties we have with that geographic region, given that our airline is the only one that flies to those countries. And I repeat, we are taking steps so that no cases emerge in our country”.