Abidjan: 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. And as the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that up to 20,000 cases of the uncurable virus could be reported, more restrictions are expected ahead of the Nations Cup finals in Morocco from January 17. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has ordered Sierra Leone and Guinea to play their Nations Cup qualifying games on neutral territory. CAF 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 told AFP.
Binyam insisted that no qualifying game was under threat. The games are becoming increasingly difficult to organise however. Sierra Leone has a doubt over their first Group D game against Ivory Coast scheduled for September 6. 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 Nations Cup tie against Sierra Leone in July because their government refused to allow the game. Sierra Leone's home game against Democratic Republic of Congo on September 10 will now be held in the Ghana 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," said Chris Kamara, secretary general of the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA).- Guinea plays away - Guinea will play its home game against Togo in the Moroccan city of Casablanca on September 6. "It is sad to play our home games in another country," said Ibrahim Blasco Barry, secretary general of the Guinea Football Federation. "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 football.
The DR Congo agreed to play Sierra Leone in Accra because none of the Sierra Leone players would come from the affected country. But DR Congo has now reported a number of Ebola deaths and Tunisia has demanded that CAF order a neutral venue for the African Champions League semi-final between Vita of DR Congo and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia.
The other semi-final, between another DR Congo club, Tout Puissan Mazembe and Setif of Algeria risks the same fate. The Congo-Brazzaville federation has in turn demanded that its Nations Cup qualifier against Nigeria on September 6 be moved. Nigeria has also had a small number of Ebola deaths.
Despite the growing risks, football's global body, FIFA, has confirmed that the World Club Cup, which will feature Real Madrid, against the club champions from other continents, would be held in Morocco from December 10 to 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 Nations Cup.