CAF gives Morocco until November 8 to decide on Africa Cup of Nations
RABAT - Morocco have until November 8 to decide whether to host the Africa Cup of Nations after a meeting Monday with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to discuss a postponement of the tournament because of the Ebola epidemic.
Morocco has called for the January 17-February 8 event to be pushed back because of fears that an influx of several hundred thousand supporters could spread the virus which has killed more than 4,950 people in West Africa.
But CAF media director Junior Binyam said after meeting with Moroccan officials that there would be no postponement.
"CAF confirms the dates of the tournament," Binyam said, adding that a second meeting was slated for November 11 in CAF's Cairo headquarters to "take the necessary decisions".
Morocco now has until Saturday to officially respond to CAF, Moroccan football federation spokesman Mohamed Makrouf said.
The options are: Morocco hosting the tournament as planned, holding the tournament in another country, or cancelling it, he said.
"Any change of dates would be to the detriment of the CAF calendar, which must follow FIFA's international calendar," CAF's Binyam insisted.
Binyam added that the "health system" set up by Morocco to prevent the spread of Ebola was "more than able to cope with the limited flow" of supporters during the tournament.
When Morocco said last month that they wanted the tournament postponed, CAF reportedly approached seven countries to know if they would take over as 2015 hosts at short notice.
Algeria, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan declined, Ghana and Nigeria have not publicly responded, and the identity of the seventh country is unknown.
The Ebola epidemic first impacted the Cup of Nations last August when Seychelles forfeited a qualifying tie rather than host a return match against Sierra Leone.
As the death toll mounted dramatically in Sierra Leone and fellow-west African state Guinea, CAF barred both countries from hosting group games.
Morocco agreed to accommodate Guinea, but Sierra Leone could not secure a neutral venue and have had to play home fixtures at opponents Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.
Not being able to perform before their supporters had an inevitable negative effect on results and Guinea and Sierra Leone are bottom of four-team groups with two rounds left.
Should Sierra Leone lose in Ivory Coast on November 14 and Guinea in Togo a day later, both will be eliminated from the qualifying race.
Only hosts Sudan, winners Egypt and Ethiopia took part in the first Cup of Nations 57 years ago, but its popularity grew rapidly with qualifying introduced ahead of the 1968 tournament.
Cameroon 800-metre athlete Issa Hayatou inherited an eight-team Cup when elected CAF president in 1988 and set about expanding it.
There were 12 teams by 1992 and the number was supposed to rise to 16 in South Africa four years later.
But strained political relations between the host nation and Nigeria over the execution of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa meant the defending champions did not compete.
The other Africa Cup that went ahead one team short was that hosted by Angola in 2010 with Togo withdrawing after an official and a footballer were gunned down by separatists in a Cabinda ambush.
Togo were crossing the border into northern Angola by road after training in Congo Brazzaville when tragedy struck, creating the darkest day in Cup of Nations history.
As the African football showcase expanded into a tournament attracting a global TV audience, so did its appeal to marketing companies.
A $5.5 million (4.4 million euros) TV and marketing rights price tag per tournament before 2010 more than doubled to the current $11.7 (9.4 million euros).