Spare a thought this weekend for fans of African football. Following the mid-week internationals, rumours have emerged that next year’s African Cup of Nations host, Morocco, has withdrawn from hosting the tournament due to fears over the Ebola virus that is currently running rampant in parts of Africa.
The news came two months after Libya withdrew from hosting the 2017 games due to ongoing security concerns within the country. It hasn’t been a good few months for Africa’s footballing body, the Confederation of African Football (the CAF), who are now faced with the prospect of finding two new host countries in quick succession.
The Moroccan Government has so far denied that it will pull out of its host duties for the 2015 games but fans of African football are sceptical and rightly so. Last Thursday, Morocco’s Minister of Sport, Mohamed Ouzzine, claimed in an interview with African website supersport.com that Morocco had officially withdrawn from hosting the games. Citing WHO reports on the severity of the Ebola virus, Ouzzine told readers:
“Zero safety does not exist, but one has to take the necessary precautions so that the coming tournament will be a football feast, bringing together our African brothers. But given the current Ebola situation we don’t think such a feast can take place as expected.
We are talking about the Africa Cup of Nations where we are expecting between 200,000 and 400,000, even one million spectators to converge in Morocco. I don’t think there is any state or any country that has the necessary capabilities to monitor, check and control the current Ebola situation when faced with these numbers.
This is our real problem. We don’t have a problem with visiting teams, we have a problem with visitors.”
Fear over the Ebola virus seems to have reached a breaking point in Africa. It is disrupting daily life and the threat of an outbreak plays heavily on the minds of African leaders. At the moment it’s difficult to ascertain whether or not Morocco have pulled out from the games. The Government is claiming they haven’t but the Sports Minister begs to differ. Who to believe is the most pressing issue.
In the midst of such uncertainty all we do know is that the CAF have received a letter from the Moroccan government asking for the tournament to be postponed until 2016 or cancelled altogether due to the Ebola virus.
The next CAF executive committee meeting comes on November 2nd and the decisions reached there will have deep consequences for football in Africa. Should the CAF continue with the 2015 games, it’s likely they’ll have to find a new host nation. Should the tournament be postponed, it will affect the scheduling of the Nation’s Cup in the future.
At the moment the CAF is staring at a no win situation. 2010 World Cup Hosts South Africa are now heavy favourites to host the 2015 games with reports emerging in African and British papers this week that Bafana Bafana have been approached by the CAF. South Africa hosted the 2013 Cup of Nations and are reportedly interested in playing host once more. But they’re not the only ones interested in the games.
In a remarkably casual move this week, Ghana’s sports minister, Mahama Ayariga, took to Facebook to declare his nation’s interest in hosting the 2015 tournament. Ghana has a long history of hosting the tournament and Ayariga has been vocal in his desire to bring the games to Ghana. The CAF have allegedly also sounded out Ghana as a potential option should Morocco withdraw.
Egypt and Sudan have also expressed an interest in hosting the games, but the political situation in both States means they are rank outsiders compared to Ghana and South Africa. The CAF is desperately trying to find a suitable replacement as soon as possible. Postponing or cancelling the games altogether would have a crippling financial implication for the CAF.
While politics and finances seem to be dictating the CAF’s behaviour at the moment, the key issue not being discussed is that of human security. Morocco’s desire to withdraw from hosting the tournament is not due to finances or politics but health. Should one person unknowingly carry the Ebola virus into a stadium during the Cup of Nations, the consequences could be deadly.
The WHO is predicting that deaths from the Virus could reach 10,000 casualties a week by December of this year. Packing 30,000 to 40,000 football fans from every corner of Africa into a football stadium when such a virus is terrorizing the continent is at best short-sighted and at worst downright reckless. The CAF’s refusal to acknowledge such a serious concern could have serious ramifications beyond football.
Reports have also emerged that a Moroccan withdrawal could see the CAF sanction the Moroccan FA and possibly suspend their national side. Whether or not the CAF will display such incredible insensitivity remains to be seen. The CAF are worried about the financial implications of postponing a tournament that has run every two years since the 1950s. In the face of financial issues, Moroccan Sport’s Minister Ouzzine, has been unrepentant
“What’s the significance of the financial losses compared to human losses? A human being is priceless.”
The next few weeks will determine the future of the African Cup of Nations. Should the games go ahead, there’s a legitimate risk of worsening the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Should the games be postponed, the CAF will incur large financial costs and the Cup of Nations will have to be reformatted. Fans of African football are in a no win situation at the moment.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.