Africa’s football authorities are wrestling with difficult decisions as they try to prevent their sport becoming a vector for spreading the Ebola virus.
With the next round of qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations fast approaching, some matches have already been moved and others are in limbo while some teams have been punished for refusing to play in locations the African Football Confederation (CAF) deems safe or against teams from Ebola-hit nations.
The problems started for CAF at the end of July when the Ministry of Health in the Seychelles refused to allow the team into the country from Sierra Leone, where the virus has killed at least 374 people, for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match. Seychelles forfeited the game and Sierra Leone advanced to the next round.
With six rounds of Africa Nations qualifying scheduled between September 5 and November 19, CAF took the initiative. In mid-August it decided to forbid matches in Guinea and Liberia as well as Sierra Leone, where the government had already banned football games.
CAF wrote to its 54 members that despite Ebola it planned to “maintain its calendar of matches across the African continent with the exception of three countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where there have been a significant number of cases.”
The Confederation said it had taken the decision after consultations with the World Health Organisation. CAF asked "the three nations to move their matches to neutral countries."
Guinea to play in Casablanca
For Liberia the impact of this decision is limited as it has already been eliminated. Guinea and Sierra Leone, on the other hand, face serious problems finding countries prepared to offer their teams a temporary home.
Guinea asked Senegal if it could play in Dakar. The Senegalese said no. Last week, after several days of negotiations, Moroccan authorities agreed to let Guinea play their home game against Togo in the Mohammed V stadium in Casablanca on September 5.
For Sierra Leone the situation is more complicated. They are scheduled to travel to Ivory Coast, a country which is not on CAF’s banned list, on 6 September. But last week the Ivorian Sports Ministry announced that it had forbidden all sports competitions in the country. The Ivorian football authorities have not yet said whether they will relocate the match or postpone it.
Sierra Leone, meanwhile, have held talks with Ghana about moving their home matches to Accra. The response has not been encouraging. The Ghana Football Association released a statement saying: "Though keen on offering its support, the GFA are uncertain about the health implications for the country."
Lower down the ladder, Lesotho refused to let their Under-20 team travel to Nigeria for an African Youth Championship match earlier this month.
"There was no way that we would send the team to Nigeria under these circumstances and with new reports of people dying due to the virus," the Lesotho Football Association secretary general Mokhosi Mohapi, told Reuters.
CAF responded by ruling that Lesotho, like Seychelles, had forfeited the match and Nigeria had progressed to the finals.
Mohapi told the BBC that Lesotho would not be "forfeiting this game without a fight."
Erick Mwanza, the CAF media manager, spoke to German newspaper Deutsche Welle, about the possible implications for African football if the Ebola outbreak does not recede.
"In January next year we will have the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Morocco," Mwanza said. "This is the biggest soccer championship in Africa; it attracts fans from across the continent, from Europe, Asia, all over the world. Guinean fans would want to travel if they qualify; the same goes for the Sierra Leonean fans. Can you imagine a situation where you still have Ebola cases being recorded every other day in Guinea or Sierra Leone and they qualify?"
Date created : 2014-08-24