Why Morocco was right to call for CAN 2015 postponement

Having failed to meet the November 8 deadline set by the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to confirm it will host the 2015 Orange Africa Cup of Nations from January 17 - February 8, 2015, Morocco was expelled from the tournament by Africa's football governing body at a meeting held in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

Having failed to meet the November 8 deadline set by the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to confirm it will host the 2015 Orange Africa Cup of Nations from January 17 – February 8, 2015, Morocco was expelled from the tournament by Africa’s football governing body at a meeting held in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday.

In a statement, CAF insisted that before expelling Morocco from the 2015 tournament, the committee had taken note of the request made by the Moroccan Minister for Youth and Sports to postpone the tournament to 2016 because of fears over the Ebola outbreak which has devastated several African countries this year, and that if the tournament were to be hosted in January as planned, Morocco would struggle to contain any outbreak that may occur.

This request was flatly rejected by CAF and instead regarded as a “refusal to hold the competition on the dates indicated January 17 – February 8, 2015”, read a statement on CAF’s official website.

Furthermore, CAF Secretary General Hicham El Amrani said that the football body would never take any risk if there were serious concerns that hosting the competition as planned would pose a threat to the host nation.

“It would be as disastrous for us as for any nation having the virus,” he said.

Amrani also observed that the decision to reject any postponement requests took into account advice from the World Health Organisation which recommended that only heavily-affected countries should be ruled out of hosting the tournament.

As it stands, I cannot help but think that CAF’s executive committee has got this one wrong and that Morocco was right in maintaining its request to postpone the January 2015 to 2016.

I believe that a significant increase in the number of movement of people, possibly some from affected nations, poses a clear risk of Ebola spreading to Morocco and to the rest of the continent on their return.

To put this into perspective, as a result of the Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone has suspended all football matches in the country including forfeiting its Nations Cup qualifier against Seychelles.
In addition, CAF itself placed bans on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone hosting any international football for fear of Ebola spreading to the rest of the continent.

It is therefore no surprise that Moroccan authorities have requested that since the virus continues to spread in West Africa, the risk of it spreading elsewhere cannot be underestimated particularly when you consider mass movement.

Moroccan officials have argued that if the tournament was allowed to go ahead as planned, any one undetected case of Ebola in the country would result into a disaster whose containment would put an enormous strain on the country’s limited resources.

Of course, this is taking into account the nature of human contact at football stadiums and significant resources needed to contain the virus in overly populated areas.

Also, officials argued that as most people are infected by giving care to other infected people either by directly having body contact with the victim or by cleaning up body fluids (stools, urine or vomit) that carry the infectious blood, the spread of the virus can quickly get out of control.

It is important to remember that the most worrying aspect is that even health professionals from countries with advanced health systems and safe guards have caught the Ebola virus trying to contain it. Not very reassuring is it?

In the end, some people may not agree with Morocco’s decision and instead argue that business should proceed as usual, but, personally, I choose to side with Morocco on this one.

Yes, business can go on as usual in line with ‘Africa is open for business’ ethos, but even in business, managing the risks of disruptive events is critical. When risks are high perhaps the wise thing to do is to acknowledge the limitations and work towards improving your chances rather than pushing through come what may. Also, we must remember that Morocco’s decision to maintain a postponement of the tournament knowing the consequences must not have been a light one considering the level of investment the nation had made to improve infrastructure in preparation for the tournament.

But then again, there is a possibility that CAF may be under pressure from prominent sponsors who stand to lose millions of dollars if the tournament was to be delayed. Either way, as CAF struggles to find next year’s host, they must quickly learn to put safeguarding lives above everything else.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.