RABAT, Morocco (AP) Morocco has denied reports it has withdrawn as host of next year’s African Cup of Nations, although it wants the tournament postponed.
Morocco wants Africa’s premier football event postponed because Moroccans could be threatened by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, information minister and government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi said on Thursday.
The Confederation of African Football insisted the tournament should carry on as planned in January and February 2015.
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CAF has canceled all football in the three worst affected Ebola countries – Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone – until further notice, but says it is following the advice of the World Health Organization that travel bans will not help curtail the outbreak.
CAF President Issa Hayatou will travel to Morocco next month to meet officials over their concerns, but the African football body said there can be no postponement.
”CAF has registered the request and wishes to state that there are no changes of the schedules of its competitions and events,” CAF said.
CAF has apparently reached out to at least two other countries to ask if they would step in at short-notice if Morocco refuses to host on the original dates of Jan. 17-Feb. 8.
Ghana’s sports minister said on his official Facebook page that his country was approached to possibly host, and CAF also asked South Africa if it could be on standby, according to a CAF letter to the South African Football Association which was published in the South African media.
Morocco feels large groups of football supporters and other travelers from West Africa – where Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people in its worst outbreak ever – would put it at risk.
”There is no way we can be lenient with the health and safety of the Moroccan citizens,” Khalfi said at a government media briefing on Thursday, repeating Morocco’s request for the cup to be postponed.
He didn’t say when Morocco wanted it postponed to.
Khalfi was repeating concerns expressed by Morocco’s health ministry, which originally advised Moroccan authorities to request a postponement from CAF.
”Football is just a game and we can’t play with the health of Moroccans,” health minister Houssaine Louardi said this week. ”There is no zero risk when it comes to Ebola.”