Morocco denied Thursday it had withdrawn from its role as host of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations over fears that its citizens would be threatened by a possible Ebola outbreak, the Associated Press reports. However, the nation asked the Confederation of African Football to postpone the tournament from January 2015 to an unspecified later date – a request the organization refused to grant.
“CAF has registered the request and wishes to state that there are no changes to the schedules of its competitions and events,” the CAF said in a statement. However, CAF officials met with soccer officials in Ghana and South Africa to discuss a possible venue change, purportedly amid concerns that Morocco would withdraw as host unless the tournament was postponed.
“CAF wrote to us and indicated that Morocco had given strong indications they would pull out if CAF did not change the date,” Ghana Youth and Sports Minister Mahama Ayariga said during an interview with a Ghanaian radio station, according to the BBC. “CAF also indicated that it was firm on the tournament dates, but they will meet the Moroccan authorities and take a decision at that meeting.”
Nearly 4,500 people have been killed by the Ebola virus this year, with the worst outbreaks concentrated in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The CAF has already indefinitely suspended all soccer events in these countries.
The large influx of tourists and international soccer fans expected at the Africa Cup of Nations could place local citizens in danger, Moroccan officials said. “Football is just a game, and we can’t play with the health of Moroccans,” Health Minister Houssaine Louardi said, according to the AP. “There is no zero risk when it comes to Ebola.”
“We are talking about the Africa Cup of Nations, where we are expecting between 200,000 and 400,000, even 1 million spectators to converge on Morocco,” Youth and Sports Minister Mohamed Ouzzine said. “I don’t think there is any state or any country that has the necessary capabilities to monitor, check and control the current Ebola situation when faced with these numbers.”
But fears regarding the Africa Cup of Nations’ potential to spread Ebola aren’t limited to Morocco. Alan Pardew, manager of Newcastle United F.C. of the English Premier League, said Thursday that the club will take unspecified measures to protect team players who plan to play in the tournament, the BBC notes.