RABAT, October 11- African football’s governing body CAF insisted Saturday next year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals would go ahead as scheduled despite the hosts Morocco demanding it be postponed over the deadly Ebola epidemic.
Moroccan health officials fear the biennial, 16-nation, three-week African football showpiece could trigger a spread of the deadly virus. Dubbing Ebola “a major health problem”, an advisor to Moroccan Sports Minister Mohammed Ouzzine reiterated the country’s reluctance to host the tournament.
“The overall interest of Morocco, Moroccan and African citizens, counts above all,” advisor Hamid Faridi told Atlantic Radio on Saturday.
“Morocco drew up its request on the basis of very serious health recommendations. “We cannot, in any case, move towards taking a risk. The principle of precaution must prevail.”
Organisers CAF, the Confederation of African Football, later insisted that there would be no change in the scheduling of the tournament.
CAF “confirms that there is no change in the schedule of its competition and events. We would like to note that since the first edition of the Africa Cup in 1975, this cup has never been delayed or cancelled”, the Cairo-based body said in a statement.
The demand to delay the continent’s footballing showcase has been lodged with CAF and Faridi, speaking before CAF’s statement, hinted that Morocco’s request would be accepted by the body, with whom a meeting has been set for “next week”.
“I think CAF was expecting this request and that everyone’s working intelligently and in a manner in which the festival of African football remains a festival,” Faridi said.
However, CAF later added that it had been conscious of the “health risks from Ebola virus and it has implemented the precautions as required by the World Health Organisation”.
CAF contradicted Faridi by saying the request made by Morocco would be “discussed during the next meeting of CAF’s executive committee on November 2 in Algiers”.
The Algiers meeting will be followed a day later by a meeting between Moroccan officials and CAF, the governing body said.
Should the tournament be shifted from Morocco, South Africa could potentially step in to stage it, having twice before come to the rescue of the tournament organisers, replacing cash-strapped Kenya in 1996 and strife-torn Libya last year.
Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia are other countries with the infrastructure and expertise to possibly host the competition at three months’ notice.
Ebola has claimed more than 4,000 lives this year, according to the World Health Organisation, with virtually all the victims coming from west African countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Guinea and Sierra Leone are involved in the qualifying competition for the 2015 tournament, but have been barred from playing at home.
The Guineans, ironically, play home matches in Moroccan city Casablanca while the Sierra Leoneans play home matches at the ground of their opponents.
Both will be in action Saturday with Guinea hosting Ghana and Sierra Leone meeting Cameroon in Yaounde. Were South Africa chosen, they would become the first country to host back-to-back Cup of Nations tournaments.
South African Football Assocation boss Danny Jordaan told AFP he had received a call from CAF president Issa Hayatou without divulging the details.
“I will meet the CAF president next week in Namibia, where he is attending the African women’s championship,” Jordaan said.
South African officials are attending an annual meeting of the national football association. Egypt have staged the championship a record-equalling four times, Tunisia three times and Algeria once.