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AFCON nightmare looms large

11 November 2014, 07:52

Cape Town - The African Cup of Nations tournament is scheduled to start in two months, but nobody wants to host it.

Organizer the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is running out of time and is without a host country because of the threat of Ebola. CAF has refused to re-schedule.

Initial host Morocco stood firm this weekend in its decision not to host the 16-team event early next year and still wants it postponed until 2016 because of the outbreak of the deadly virus in West Africa.

CAF will meet Tuesday to make a final decision on the cup — and may have to give up on the tournament in 2015.

The Cairo-based African football body, which rejected Morocco's previous request for a postponement, said it will look for a new host to stage the continent's top tournament on its scheduled dates of Jan. 17-Feb. 8 if Morocco is unrelenting.

Morocco could be stripped of its hosting rights at the CAF executive committee meeting and possibly punished further, but there is no obvious plan B for the African Cup if CAF goes ahead.

Four possible stand-in countries — South Africa, Sudan, Egypt and Ghana — have also indicated they are not willing to host. It is unclear if any other countries met Saturday's deadline to put their names forward as hosts in place of Morocco.

Ghana ruled itself out on Monday when its sports minister, Mahama Ayariga, said it had taken advice from health workers not to host because of Ebola.

CAF approached seven countries as backup hosts last month, according to one of them, South Africa.

CAF has declined to name the countries, but Nigeria and Angola have been mentioned as possible stand-in hosts alongside the four that have declined.

One of CAF's pressing concerns is that its showpiece tournament fits into FIFA's calendar, but Africa's best players — like Manchester City's Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure — may not be released by their clubs to play in early 2016, if the Cup of Nations is postponed until then.

Repeating its stance on the Ebola threat Saturday, Morocco's ministry of youth and sports said in a four-page statement that it still wanted the Cup of Nations postponed for a year because of the "serious risk of spread of the deadly Ebola pandemic."

Nearly 5 000 people have died from Ebola, with almost all the deaths in the three worst-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Morocco said it expected tens of thousands of fans to travel for the games — many from football-mad West Africa — and it was not willing to risk Ebola spreading through large gatherings of people at matches in its country.

The advice of its health authorities took precedence over sport, said the ministry, and it did not want to be forced to refuse supporters from Ebola-affected countries entry into Morocco.

The African Cup has struggled with organizational problems before and now CAF faces the reality of having to move the entire tournament to a new country two months before kickoff, almost certainly not enough time for a host to properly prepare.

Even South Africa, with the best football facilities in Africa, and which stepped in as short-notice host in 2013 for Libya, has felt the force of Ebola's threat and said there was not enough time to plan or finance the tournament in a few months.

"It is totally impossible," South Africa's sports minister Fikile Mbalula said.

"We would like to give this one a pass."

- AP


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