A big question mark has been placed over next year’s African Nations Cup after Morocco announced they would not stage the tournament in January because of fears over the spread of Ebola.
The country, which had already said it wanted the 16-team event postponed, rejected an ultimatum set by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to confirm the hosting of the continental championship due to take place January 17 until February 8.
A statement from Morocco’s Sports Ministry said: “The decision is dictated by health reasons because of the serious threat of Ebola and the risk of its spreading.”
The 16-team competition has run since 1957 and the north African country has spent millions of dollars upgrading its stadiums for the event as well as December’s FIFA Club World Cup.
A decision on the tournament is due to be made on Tuesday (November 11) when CAF holds an Executive Committee meeting in Cairo but Morocco will almost certainly be stripped as hosts.
In addition to medical risks, the Moroccan Government statement claimed the decision was “also motivated by humanitarian reasons since it is our responsibility to welcome all our guests and supporters in the best conditions in accordance with the culture and hospitality Moroccan traditions”.
Morocco fears supporters from West Africa, where Ebola is most prevalent and has led to the death of more than 5,000 people, arriving in the country for the tournament could bring with them the deadly virus and put at risk their important tourist industry.
Morocco asked CAF to postpone the event to June, or even January 2016, but this was rejected last week by African football’s governing body, who set Morocco a deadline of yesterday to confirm it would host the three-week tournament.
CAF secretary general Hicham El Amrani claimed they rejected Morocco’s request to postpone the tournament following consultation with the World Health Organisation.
El Amrani claimed they had recommended cancelling only mass gatherings and football matches only in the heavily-affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Of the three countries affected, only Guinea is likely to qualify for the tournament with Liberia and Sierra Leone already out of contention.
“We will never take any risk if we are unsure about whether a competition poses a threat to the hosts,” said El Amrani.
CAF can now either move the event to another country or cancel it at great financial cost.
Ghana and South Africa, both mentioned as potential replacements, have both claimed they are not interested in replacing Morocco.
This article first appeared in insidethegames.biz and has been reproduced with permission. The original article can be viewed by clicking here.