Saturday, November 8, 2014 11:03 pm
Hosts Morocco on Saturday demanded that the Africa Cup of Nations be postponed for a year because of the widening Ebola epidemic.
But a government statement did not answer a Confederation of African Football (CAF) ultimatum calling on Morocco to publicly state whether it would host the tournament from January 17 to February 8.
The statement released by the Ministry of Sports said the country was faced with “a strictly health linked case of force majeure” in making its call for a postponement “from 2015 to 2016”.
The call was made after “deep reflection,” the government added.
Morocco had already called on CAF to push back the tournament to June next year or 2016 but African football bosses had refused to change the dates.
The continental ruling body had given Morocco until Saturday to give a firm response on whether it would stage the event.
The new response from Rabat means it is now up to the CAF, which is to meet on Tuesday at its Cairo headquarters, to move the event or cancel it.
The deadly ebola virus has killed at least 4,960 people, mainly in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Morocco fears that an influx of foreign fans could help spread the epidemic.
CAF has said the fears are exaggerated and that only a limited number of foreign fans will go there.
The confederation has reportedly approached seven countries about standing in as emergency hosts.
Algeria, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan declined, Ghana and Nigeria have not publicly responded. The identity of the seventh country is unknown.
Morocco said it was not “ready to hold the CAN on a sporting, organisational and logistical level.”
The North African kingdom said its call for a postponement was “dictated by health reasons of the most dangerous kind, linked to the serious risk of the spread of the deadly Ebola pandemic.”
It insisted that its demand for a delay should be “perfectly acceptable.”
The Ebola epidemic first hit the Cup of Nations in August when Seychelles forfeited a qualifying tie rather than host a return match against Sierra Leone.
As the death toll mounted, CAF barred Sierra Leone and Guinea from hosting their qualifying group games.
Morocco agreed to let Guinea play games there, but Sierra Leone could not secure a neutral venue and have had to play home fixtures at opponents Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
Deprived of home support, Guinea and Sierra Leone are bottom of four-team groups with two rounds left.
Should Sierra Leone lose in Ivory Coast on November 14 and Guinea in Togo a day later, both will be eliminated from the qualifying race.