KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —– Issa Hayatou and his African football confederation find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place as they approach Monday’s scheduled decision on the staging of next year’s Nations Cup finals in Morocco.
The Moroccan government has demanded that the 16-team finals be delayed from January 17 to February 8 to June out of concern about the ebola-linked health risk from thousands of foreign fans flying in for the tournament.
Morocco’s government is leading on the issue rather to save the federation from any specific blame and/or possible disciplinary or contractual action by CAF.
As Moroccan officials have commented, if FIFA can consider altering the hosting date of a World Cup (as possibly per Qatar) then CAF should have no problem postponing the Nations Cup.
A CAF delegation led by Hayatou, the head of CAF and senior vice-president of the world federation, met Moroccan officials earlier this week in Yaounde. A further meeting is scheduled for Sunday with the CAF executive due to make a decision on Monday.
A postponement would raise serious issues for CAF.
Firstly, it would be acceding to governmental, i.e political, pressure; secondly, it would face possible contractual action from TV and sponsors; thirdly, it would be conceding ground on the timing of the finals which has always been an issue for European clubs who provide many of the players, including all the star names.
Europe’s clubs have long complained not only that the Nations Cup takes place every two years, not the four-year cycle of most other national team events, but that the early-year scheduling takes their players out of league competition.
CAF fears that, once it has shifted the finals to June, it will be impossible to go back to January/February.
On the other hand, CAF has also been cautioned unofficial that, if the finals go ahead in Morocco, then some European clubs may refuse to release their players over health risk fears – and even go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if pushed by Hayatou and Co.
The other option is for CAF to find another host for the finals but the search, so far, has proved unrewarding. The one nation best able to pick up the finals at short notice, South Africa, has refused to consider lending Hayatou a helping hand.
Also refusing to help have been Algeria, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan while Nigeria and Ghana are undecided but reluctant.
If CAF did find an alternative host then it would risk being sued by the Moroccan government over monies spent on upgrading stadia and support facilities.
The Moroccan position has been set out clearly by Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine.
He said there could be no equivocation over the government’s demand for a postponement. The country will host the FIFA Club World Cup in December but this features only six visiting teams and will not attract fans from other African nations.
Ouzzine said: “Morocco has a firm will to welcome the next edition of the Nations Cup,” and added that it had proposed various alternative dates in the optimistic hope that, later in 2015, the ebola crisis would have eased.
The virus has claimed 5,000 lives, almost all in west African countries such as Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone according to the World Health Organisation.
Ouzzine added: “Our demand for a postponement is motivated by the latest WHO report, which contains alarming numbers regarding the extent and spread of the virus. Morocco faces a historical responsibility as there has never been such a deadly ebola epidemic.
“We expect around 300,000 fans for the Nations Cup and we are not equipped for the essential health checks. I cannot see any other countries being equipped for so many fans either.”
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