Ebola Epidemic: The role of sports authorities



The Ebola epidemic is here. It has brought unprecedented suffering to the people of Africa, particularly in West Africa. Africa’s socio-economic and political life is now confronted with monumental challenges. It is now a matter of life and death in the truest sense. African economies, which were already fragile, are now crumbling due to the onslaught of the Ebola virus.

The United States government, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Red Cross and other stakeholders are doing their best to deal with the situation in West Africa, being the epicentre of the epidemic, which has claimed more than 4 000 lives. Everybody is panicking. Some prejudiced, paranoid and bigoted people with overt as well as rabid racist agendas are calling for the whole of Africa to be quarantined! However, as US President Obama has rightly stated, we need to be guided by medical science and not emotions.   

There is no doubt that the Ebola epidemic has also impacted heavily on the sports sector. This is because sport brings diverse people together through various events either on the field of play and off it, as athletes, spectators and officials. Public education is on-going pertaining to how this highly contagious disease can spread amongst people.  As with the case with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, sports authorities and organisations have a critical role to play by assisting health authorities with education and awareness initiatives to curtail the spread of the disease.

The Moroccan government, whose country was scheduled to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), has rightfully requested the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to consider postponing the event until health authorities are able to contain the spread of the disease. The request by the Moroccans, which is indeed a legitimate one, has fallen on deaf ears at CAF. Instead, CAF is running around trying to secure another host at the eleventh hour. CAF should be working with WHO in order to safeguard the health and well-being of the continent and not push for convention of the tournament at all costs. The same applies to other continental sports organisations. The African Union Sports Council (AUSC) and Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOCA) should also make themselves relevant on this critical matter by making relevant policy pronouncements as well as committing resources to the fight against the spread of the Ebola virus.

Other development partners can come to assist Africa but it is the primary role of African institutions and organisations across all sectors to respond to the challenge posed by the Ebola epidemic. Just like other crises, be they political and military, that have confronted the continent in the past, what is important is the action taken by the people of the continent rather than the assistance that comes from foreigners. There is need to build capacity throughout Africa to confront and contain the threat of the Ebola virus. It is no longer a problem for West Africa alone but the entire continent and international community. However, Africa deals with this challenge, will determine to a large extent, the image and standing of the continent in the international arena.

African sports organisations can play a critical role not just through education and awareness creation among sports people but by postponing certain events as well. The cost of postponing events can be dealt with more easily than the unbridled spread of the disease through large gatherings of people on the continent. These are sacrifices that have to be made for the greater good of the continent. African sports organisations cannot bar West Africans from participating in events that they have rightly qualified for. However, a moratorium on convention of continental events can greatly assist by minimising movement of people throughout the continent until the WHO and other health authorities have declared that it is absolutely safe to do so.

Postponement of events is always a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering prior investments associated with the organisation and staging of sports events. However as the old adage goes, “He who runs away lives to fight for another day.” 

The Ebola virus has affected various facets of the emerging economies of Africa. Even the airlines that are supposed to freely transport passengers, including sports people, throughout the continent can no longer do so. Trading at various market places as well as the transportation of goods by road and rail has been severely affected.

As much as sports people have a role to play in combating the spread of Ebola, a heavy responsibility also lies on the shoulders of African Heads of State and Governments themselves. It is no secret that African Heads of States and Government, their families, cronies and associates are some of the richest people in the world. Combating the Ebola virus requires colossal amounts of financial resources. One hopes that some of these leaders will do a lot of soul searching and utilize some of their wealth, much of it obtained by illicit means anyway, to at least relieve the pain and suffering of people on the continent.

Some critics would argue that the Southern Times Sports Forum is overstepping its boundaries. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. The very future of Africa is at stake.  Although, sport is now part and parcel of the development of the continent, there is, regrettably, at present, no time for fun and games!

November 2014
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