Despite Ebola fears, African football body says no more venue changes in qualifying
Despite a deadly Ebola outbreak in a fifth country, the Confederation of African Football said Thursday that qualifiers for the continent’s top tournament will go ahead as planned next month, sweeping aside protests from a number of fearful teams.
CAF’s decision that there would be no more venue changes forces the Cameroon and Republic of Congo squads to travel to countries where people have died from the virus, and compels Ivory Coast — with big names like Manchester City’s Yaya Toure — to host players and officials from Ebola-affected Sierra Leone.
“As earlier announced, CAF will reassess the situation in mid-September,” the African confederation said in a statement, but maintained there would be “no amendments” to the schedule for African Cup qualifying games in the first two weeks of next month.
CAF had already been forced to move early qualifiers out of Sierra Leone and Guinea, two of the worst-affected countries in a West African outbreak where more than 1,500 people have now died.
But Nigeria — where six people have died — will still host Republic of Congo in the southern city of Calabar on Sept. 6, CAF ruled. CAF also insisted that Cameroon travel to the central African country of Congo, where 13 people have died in a new outbreak that’s not related to the West African crisis, experts say.
Cameroon and Republic of Congo both expressed fears over travelling and asked CAF to move the games to neutral countries.
“We have done what we ought to do,” Cameroon football federation President Joseph Owona said of the country’s request for the game to be relocated.
Ivory Coast’s football federation was already working to find a solution for its Sept. 6 home game against Sierra Leone in Abidjan after its government stopped travel to and from West African nations with the virus and said the Sierra Leoneans wouldn’t be allowed in.
Cameroon’s federation said it would follow its government’s advice over the trip to Lubumbashi in southern Congo.
If governments overrule football bodies and ultimately prevent players from travelling to or arriving from Ebola-hit countries despite CAF’s orders, some of Africa’s top teams may be forced to back out of the African Cup of Nations.
Ivory Coast and Cameroon both went to the World Cup and boast an array of Europe-based stars.
The World Health Organization on Thursday warned that Ebola cases could exceed 20,000 in the West African outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Just over 3,000 cases have been reported.
CAF also dismissed Mali’s request to have its game in Algeria moved after a Cameroonian player was killed after being hit by a rock thrown by fans at a league game over the weekend. Mali said it feared violence against its players, but CAF ordered the game will stay in Blida, near Algiers.