Africa Cup of Nations ‘will not be postponed’
The Africa Cup of Nations, due to be held from January 17 to February 8, will not be postponed because of the Ebola epidemic, an African football official said Monday.
Hosts Morocco have called for the tournament to be pushed back because of fears that an influx of several hundred thousand supporters could spread the virus which has killed more than 4,950 people in west Africa.
But Confederation of African Football (CAF) media director Junior Binyam said there would be no postponement after meeting with Moroccan officials.
“CAF confirms the dates of the tournament,” Binyam said, adding that a second meeting was slated for November 11 at the confederation’s Cairo headquarters to “take the necessary decisions”.
Morocco now have until November 8 to officially respond to CAF, Moroccan football federation spokesman Mohamed Makrouf said.
The options are either Morocco hosting the tournament as planned, holding the tournament in another country, or cancelling it, he said.
“Any change of dates would be to the detriment of the CAF calendar, which must follow FIFA’s international calendar,” Binyam insisted.
The Ebola epidemic first impacted the Cup of Nations last August when Seychelles forfeited a qualifying tie rather than host a return match against Sierra Leone.
As the death toll mounted dramatically in Sierra Leone and Guinea, CAF barred both countries from hosting group games.
Morocco agreed to accommodate Guinea, but Sierra Leone could not secure a neutral venue and have had to play home fixtures away at opponents Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
Not being able to perform before their supporters had an inevitable negative effect on results and Guinea and Sierra Leone are bottom of their four-team groups with two rounds left.
Should Sierra Leone lose in Ivory Coast on November 14 and Guinea in Togo a day later, both will be eliminated from the qualifying race.
– Growing popularity –
The first Cup of Nations took place 57 years ago in Sudan and only featured the hosts, Ethiopia and winners Egypt, but its popularity grew rapidly with qualifying introduced ahead of the 1968 tournament.
When Cameroon 800-metre athlete Issa Hayatou was elected CAF president in 1988, he inherited an eight-team tournament, but he set about expanding it.
There were 12 teams by 1992 and the number was supposed to rise to 16 in South Africa four years later.
But strained political relations between the host nation and Nigeria over the execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa meant the defending champions did not compete.
The other Cup of Nations that went ahead one team short was that hosted by Angola in 2010 with Togo withdrawing after an official and a footballer were gunned down by separatists in an ambush in Angola’s Cabinda province.
Togo were crossing the border into northern Angola by road after training in Congo Brazzaville when tragedy struck, creating the darkest day in Cup of Nations history.
As the African football showcase expanded into a tournament attracting a global TV audience, so did its appeal to marketing companies.
A $5.5 million (4.4 million euros) TV and marketing rights deal per tournament before 2010 more than doubled to the current $11.7 million (9.4 million euros) price tag. source