Johannesburg (AFP) – When and where the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations will be staged should be resolved within days amid pleas from hosts Morocco to postpone the tournament over the Ebola epidemic.
The virus has claimed almost 5,000 lives this year, almost all in west African countries Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Morocco fear a potential influx of several hundred thousand supporters from the other 15 finalists could spread the epidemic.
African football body CAF will hold a meeting of their executive in Algeria on Sunday and 24 hours later president Issa Hayatou will lead a delegation to Morocco for further talks.
CAF are then expected to issue a statement clarifying the situation after weeks of wild media speculation.
A senior African football official, who requested anonymity, told AFP there were three likely scenarios:
– Morocco back down and agree to original January 17-February 8 hosting dates.
– CAF agree to postpone tournament to mid-2015 or early 2016.
– Talks collapse, Morocco withdraw, and CAF seek new hosts.
Unconfirmed reports of midweek meetings involving Hayatou and Moroccan officials led Moroccan daily As-Sabah to claim a deal had been struck to delay the Africa Cup.
This report was swiftly denied by a CAF spokesman as “completely untrue”.
Of the countries approached as possible emergency hosts, Nigeria and Ghana are reportedly undecided while Algeria, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan declined.
The Cup of Nations is crucial to CAF as each tournament generates $11.7 million (9.3 million euros) from TV and marketing rights.
It is the biggest cash injection into the Cairo-based confederation with the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup club competitions earning a combined $10.2 million (8.1 million euros) yearly.
Only hosts Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia competed in the first tournament 57 years ago, but under Hayatou the Africa Cup has grown from eight to 16 teams and stamped its mark on the international calendar.
World-class, high-definition TV coverage is broadcast worldwide, showcasing the skills of Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfield dynamo Yaya Toure plus many other Europe-based stars.
But Moroccan sports minister Mohammed Ouzzine insists health must come before finances or football.
“Our demand for a postponement is motivated by the latest WHO report, which contains alarming numbers regarding the extent and spread of the virus,” he stressed.
“Morocco are facing a historical responsibility as there has never been such a deadly Ebola epidemic.”
Quizzed regarding Morocco being happy to stage the FIFA Club World Cup this December but not the Cup of Nations, the minister said the difference was the numbers of visiting supporters.
Ouzzine said far more were expected for the Cup of Nations, “possibly 300,000 or even more.
“We are not equipped for that and I cannot see other countries being able to ensure checks and controls for such a large number.”
Concern has also been expressed by European managers with African footballers in their squads, including Roberto di Matteo of German outfit Schalke.
“It is worrying. I know it is dangerous,” said the Bundesliga boss of crack Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
CAF seem worried about setting a precedent, saying that “since the first edition of the Africa Cup in 1957, the tournament has never been delayed or cancelled”.
The continental body would also have welcomed support from FIFA this week with the global football federation praising how CAF have handled the Ebola crisis.
Measures taken include ordering Guinea and Sierra Leone to stage group qualifiers abroad. Liberia were eliminated at the preliminary stage.
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