Morocco Pulls Out of Hosting African Cup of Nations Amidst Ebola Fears

Ivory Coast fan
A fan of Ivory coast holds a sign with a message against Ebola during the 2015 African Nations Cup qualifying soccer match between Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone at the Felix Houphouet Boigny stadium in Abidjan September 6, 2014. Luc Gnago/Reuters

Morocco has been disqualified from hosting or participating in the 2015 African Cup of Nations after the country's last minute refusal to commit to host the competition on the agreed dates amidst fears over the spread of the Ebola epidemic which has gripped the west of the continent, the African Football Confederation (CAF) announced on Tuesday night.

The knockout tournament, held once every two years was supposed to welcome 16 of Africa's top national football sides to Morocco between January 17 and February 8, however last week the country's ministry of sport asked African football's governing body, the CAF, to postpone the competition to the summer or January 2016.

"The decision is dictated by health reasons because of the serious threat of Ebola and the risk of its spreading," Morocco's ministry of sport said in a statement.

After deliberating on the issue, however, the CAF has refused to allow the competition being postponed or abandoned and will now look for another nation to host the tournament.

In an interview with France24, Issa Hayatou, president of the CAF, said postponing the African Cup of Nations would deal a "mortal blow" to the continent's footballing reputation.

Some of Africa's most prolific players such as Ivory Coast pair Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure or Ghana's Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien play for European clubs and have had to take time off from their domestic season to be involved in Africa's continental tournament before as its calendar clashes with many domestic leagues.

"Once you postpone this event, it will open the door for everybody to ask for a delay of any competition and we will no longer be credible and cannot organize anything," Hayatou added.

With Nigeria being the only team participating in the tournament with an Ebola outbreak at home, the head of African football expressed doubts about whether Ebola was the genuine reason for Morocco's desire to postpone the tournament.

"Of course, they said the reason was Ebola. But when we see also that Morocco is in the process of organizing the FIFA Club World Cup, only 25 days before the Africa Cup of Nations, you understand that this is an argument that must be quickly erased," Hayatou said.

The CAF was not available to comment on what reason, other than Ebola, Morocco had for pulling out of the event.

The African Cup of Nations is the CAF's main source of revenue and has been held every two years since 1968 despite difficult political situations in the region.

In 2010 Angola hosted the tournament despite political unrest which caused the Togo national side's bus to be attacked by armed terrorists, killing two passengers, while in 2012 Libya and Tunisia qualified and competed in the tournament, despite ongoing regime changes at home and allegations that some of their players were involved in fighting in the 'Arab Spring'.

Hayatou was not ready to comment on which country or countries would now host the sporting event now but stressed that it will go forward on the agreed dates and the host will become known this week.