SOCCER REVIEWÂ with STEPHEN PHIRI
THE 2015 Africa Cup of Nations seems to be in jeopardy following Moroccoâ€™s withdrawal from hosting the biennial tournament in January.
It is now in the public domain that Morocco has refused to host the tournament for fear of its people contracting the deadly Ebola disease which has claimed about 5,000 lives in some West African countries.
Morocco requested the Confederation of African Football to reschedule the football extravaganza to June or January 2016, hoping that Ebola would have, by then, died out.
CAF has rejected the request, insisting that Morocco should host as scheduled in January 2015. The stand-off has not been resolved and the CAF executive committee is due to meet to find a solution to the dilemma.
In the meantime qualifiers are entering the penultimate round this weekend and will conclude next Wednesday. Teams will qualify for tournament without knowing the host. Itâ€™s regrettable.
I came across some speculation on BBC on the possible hosts. These are:
Algeria – Last hosted the event in 1990 but reportedly had a meeting with Caf officials at the African Champions League final last week. There are concerns about the crowd violence that led to the death of JS Kabylie striker Albert Ebosse in August.
Angola – Hosts in 2010 and would therefore have the infrastructure and stadiums in place to step in at late notice.
Egypt – The six-time winners were hosts in 2006 but the North African nation has recently suffered from political unrest.
Gabon – Co-hosts with Equatorial Guinea in 2012, and with South Africa ruling themselves out of the running they are the nation who most recently held the event.
Nigeria – The reigning champions co-hosted with Ghana in 2000. They officially opened their new Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo last Friday.
Before we fault Morocco on their position, we need to understand, critically, issues of health, particularly the threat that Ebola poses to humanity.
Ebola is highly contagious and, as we all know, deadly. Further, there is no known cure for the disease that has now spread beyond the African continent.
So, itâ€™s a question of the need to host the tournament as scheduled and the imperatives of observing good health principles.
CAF, itself, recognises the threat Ebola poses and that is why it placed bans on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone hosting any international football. These are the three worst hit countries.
CAFâ€™s argument, which I agree with, is very strong. It reads: â€œOf the three countries where the epidemic is prevalent, only Guinea retains a chance of qualifying for the final tournament of the Orange AfCON 2015. In addition, Guinea hosts its home games in Casablanca and has adhered to a strict health protocol implemented by Morocco that has so far showed no flaws.â€
â€œMorocco, a country where no cases of Ebola have been identified, welcomes in the coming weeks and a few days before the Orange AfCON 2015, the FIFA Club World Cup where there will be participants from a country where a case of the Ebola virus has been identified (Spain).
â€œOn the other hand, the number of foreign fans expected in the stadiums for the FIFA Club World 2014 is much higher than the ones expected for the Orange AFCON 2015. Indeed, almost all of the fans attending the Orange AfCON are residents in Morocco, and considering the average purchasing power in most African countries, it is unrealistic to expect more than 1,000 supporters from the rest of the continent to attend the Orange AfCON 2015, except for those who benefit from a geographic proximity within the Maghreb region.â€
Given these arguments by CAF, I submit that Moroccoâ€™s position smacks of double standards and is highly flawed. It has caused unnecessary confusion regarding the 2015 tournament.
SOCCER REVIEWÂ with STEPHEN PHIRI