Due to fears of the spread of Ebola, Morocco has refused to host the 2015 African Cup of Nations, asking that the tournament be postponed to 2017. In response, the Confederation of African Football has decided to expel Morocco from the tournament as a whole and now faces the question of finding a new host, given that they, as of now, maintain that the tournament will go on. The short-list, as suggested by BBC, is currently at five countries. These are Gabon, Angola, Tunisia, Algeria, and Nigeria. Each has its own pros and cons (which Nick Cavell expounds on http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/30004279) and the decision is anything but clear.
In the next couple days qualifiers will end, leaving 15 countries along with the eventual host in the final 16. The tournament itself is projected to begin on January 17 and end February 8. CAF’s determination to go forward with the event is commendable, as it tries to make a name for African identity in a sport heavily dominated by Europeans and Latin Americans. We have heard the complaints of African stars over how they are perceived in the world of soccer, and it is clear that racism is alive and well in the sport. With all this in mind, CAF’s stubbornness is understandable, or at least the logic behind it is.
But one must also consider the gravity of the situation. This current Ebola outbreak is the largest recorded in history, and the consequences, apart from the tragic deaths that are not to be overlooked but are not the focus of this article, have been dire. Qualifiers have already been cancelled and players have refused to show up. Surely this cannot be overlooked. When the Crimean conflict was in full swing there was much debate about what to do with the teams that called the area home. As a result, several were relocated and have remained there.
Morocco’s fear over hosting, as its Sporting Minister announced, is focused centrally on the consequences a single case would have. As we’ve seen in this country, hysteria regarding the disease is rampant, even if the possibility of an American contracting Ebola is incredibly low. Morocco, although closer to the outbreak, is far enough from the West African epicenters of Ebola that fears of an outbreak are low. Morocco understands the odds, but even an isolated incident would be hugely detrimental to its image and to African soccer as a whole. If a player or anyone else associated with the tournament were to contract the disease, it would mark a major setback both for CAF and Morocco.
Relocating and postponing are both logical responses to the current situation. However, the CAF’s aggressive answer to Morocco’s decision is far from ideal. To better Africa’s soccer image in the world, the CAF ought to have worked more closely with the Moroccans in planning an event that could go on smoothly with safe alternatives. Morocco, apart from its current expulsion, is now facing more consequences for breaking a contractual agreement. Unfortunately, what could have been the continuation of a great African tradition has now turned into a lose-lose situation for all involved.
Photo: Ben Sansall