The widening Ebola virus crisis has caused sporting chaos, with Sierra Leone having to field all players from outside the country in the African Cup of Nations to avoid a growing quarantine.
Many African governments have sought a shield aound Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, which have been the worst hit countries, accounting for nearly all the 1,552 reported dead so far.
As the UN’s WHO has warned that up to 20,000 cases of the incurable virus could be reported, more restrictions are expected ahead of the Cup of Nations finals in Morocco from Jan. 17 next year.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has ordered Sierra Leone and Guinea to play their Cup of Nations qualifying games on neutral territory.
Confederation experts and the WHO warned “to avoid huge gatherings of people that could facilitate the spread of the Ebola virus,” CAF media director Junior Binyam said.
Binyam insisted that no qualifying game was under threat. However, the games are becoming increasingly difficult to organize.
Sierra Leone has a doubt over their first Group D game against Ivory Coast scheduled for Saturday.
The Ivory Coast government is refusing to allow the game in Abidjan and the country’s federation has still not announced a country ready to play host.
The CAF could sanction Ivory Coast if the game does not go ahead.
The Seychelles forfeited a preliminary-round Cup of Nations tie against Sierra Leone last month because their government refused to allow the game.
Sierra Leone’s home game against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sept. 10 is now to be held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Cameroon are also in the group.
“The entire Sierra Leone squad will be made up of professional players from overseas so they would not require any Ebola clearance,” Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) secretary-general Chris Kamara said.
Guinea are to play their home game against Togo in the Moroccan city of Casablanca on Sept. 6.
“It is sad to play our home games in another country,” Guinea Football Federation secretary-general Ibrahim Blasco Barry said.
“We could have won them all if we were playing at home, but we are forced to give in to the wishes of the CAF and the opposing teams,” he said.
The Ebola-fear fallout is spreading further in African soccer. The DRC agreed to play Sierra Leone in Accra because none of the Sierra Leone players would come from the affected country.
However, the DRC has now reported a number of Ebola deaths and Tunisia has demanded that the confederation order a neutral venue for the African Champions League semi-final between Vita of DRC and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia.
The other semi-final, between another DRC club, Tout Puissan Mazembe, and Setif of Algeria risks the same fate.
The Congo-Brazzaville federation has in turn demanded that its Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria on Saturday be moved. Nigeria has also had a small number of Ebola deaths.
Despite the growing risks, soccer’s global body, FIFA, has confirmed that the World Club Cup, which is to feature Real Madrid, against the club champions from other continents, would be held in Morocco from Dec. 10 to Dec. 20.
FIFA said that as there were no cases in Morocco, there was no reason to change. That came as a relief to the North African country as it prepares to host the Cup of Nations.
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