The Ebola crisis has since July been a rumbling undercurrent to the currently in process African Cup of Nations qualification, yet developments of recent days have seen the virus – purely in footballing terms – become a problem of tidal wave proportions.
Compared against the life and death connotations attached to the disease, football is a nonsensical issue, nonetheless focusing on a completely egotistical angle there is now genuine danger regarding whether January’s showpiece event in Morocco will even take place – with the Moroccan Ministry of Health on Friday night making known an appeal to CAF in relation to postponing the competition.
That situation grew yet gloomier on Saturday, with the Ministry of Health indicating that the country would not organise the tournament in January – that coming in spite of CAF’s insistence that the show would go on.
The danger of Ebola plunging the qualification into disarray has not quite materialised, although Sierra Leone’s campaign has been severely hit by the absence of home advantage whilst time will tell whether that factor will ultimately deny Guinea. Fears surrounding Nigeria and Ivory Coast – two of Africa’s biggest hitters – have as of yet not come to fruition.
Events of the last week have however seen the concerns grow more severe – or at least finally brought it to the attention of a world outside Africa who were somewhat ignorant to the scale of risk – with numerous cases being identified outside of the continent. Finally there is a realisation that this not an emergency exclusive to Africa but one with implications across the globe – frustratingly that recognition has taken an exasperating timeframe and some would argue swifter action might have negotiated the current state of hysteria.
Even an African football enthusiast in their most rose tinted spectacles would hasten deny that the Moroccan authorities concern is valid – again football is a mere insignificance on the overall spectrum of importance. The stance is arguably anything but rash either, with Morocco as a country largely understanding of the situation – Royal Air Maroc remain one of just a small proportion of state owned airlines continuing flights to and from West Africa.
For all the precautions put in place – Morocco has been quick to instil numerous prevention measures – nothing can be considered a certain method to identifying the disease, given symptoms can go undetected for 21 days. With vast thousands of individuals transitioning in and out of the North African country – at the same potentially journeying throughout the continent – the impending AFCON would represent an avenue for widespread infection thus making the risk too substantial even for contemplation.
Again from a single-minded footballing perspective, there is also growing viability that even should the competition go ahead within the current climate getting players to make the journey to Morocco could signify an arduous assignment.
This week saw Rayo Vallecano’s Lass Bangoura denied the opportunity to represent his native Guinea, with his Spanish club and teammates showcasing apprehension to international involvement – in spite of Guinea’s double header with Ghana being played out in two venues unaffected by Ebola.
Bangoura’s decision was entirely justifiable given it is Rayo who pay his wages and it is unlikely that should the pandemic persist he will not be the last to reach such a conclusion – there is viability that Bangoura will be the first of many.
International managers and governing bodies may not be accommodating, however with club football undeniably now the game’s driving force combined with the health implications being discussed players placed in Bangoura’s position can simply only make one viable choice – at the same time considering the anxiety surrounding the virus those teammates displaying unease can be somewhat forgiven.
There is scope that Ebola’s impacts on football could stretch far beyond African – make no qualms about it the disease is not and never was a problem exclusive to Africa.
An ideal world would suggest delaying the decision given that in several months’ time the outlook could be somewhat different, yet major sporting events simply cannot be dictated by chance. The situation is scheduled to be discussed over the coming weeks and whilst CAF have reinforced their stance of following the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, ultimately the governing body has a decision to make.
The absence of the AFCON would be detrimental commercially – on a continent where finances are often beyond tight the loss should not be undervalued – whilst also a substantial miss the footballing calendar. Nonetheless those points remain small fry when analysed against the wider picture – Ebola’s impact on football is a mere undercurrent in the grand scheme of things and Morocco’s stance undeniably moves within the thought of logic.