Morocco has not withdrawn as host of the African Cup of Nations, the minister of information said on Thursday, denying reports that fears over the Ebola outbreak caused the country to give up the tournament.
But Mustapha Khalfi, who was also the official government spokesman, said Morocco still wanted the event in January postponed because of the Ebola threat, forcing a conflict with organisers that may still see Africa’s top football tournament moved just three months before kickoff.
The Confederation of African Football has insisted the January 17-February 8 African Cup must go ahead as planned on those dates, and repeated its stance on Thursday in a statement to The Associated Press.
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.
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, and 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.”
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 Organisation that travel bans will not help curtail the outbreak.
Although CAF President Issa Hayatou will travel to Morocco next month to meet officials over their concerns, the 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.