The Economics Of Morocco’s Refusal To Host AFCON 2015

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Written by Maher Mezahi

In early August, five months after the Ebola virus epidemic broke out in Guinea, Africa’s sporting bodies consulted with the World Health Organization on recommended sanitary measures to limit its propagation. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) was immediately told to stop Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone from hosting any international and domestic ties.

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation, which was preparing to host the African Cup of Nation (AFCON) final in January 2015, immediately opened an avenue of communication with the Confederation of African Football, closely monitoring the severity of the epidemic.

But in a surprise move the Moroccan health ministry asked the Ministry of Youth and Sport to send a letter to CAF, requesting a postponement of the tournament for six or twelve months.

And with that Morocco was banned from attending the AFCON finals that were eventually moved to Equatorial Guinea. Further sanctions were in order for Morocco Issa Hayatou, President of the Confederation of African Football, said in an interview on Radio Football Internationale.

“Once you postpone this event, it will open the door for everybody to ask for a delay of any competition and we will no longer be credible and cannot organize anything,” He said, using  Nigeria’s boycott of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, where the governing body excluded the Super Eagles from all competitions for four years as precedence.

Hayatou also outlined three reasons for the Confederation’s insistence the tournament be played on time, saying postponement will hurt the tournament’s sponsors and partners and CAF will hav to pay the price.

“We cannot sign our death warrant, because if we postpone this event, it will be very deadly for African football. For 57-years, we have patiently built this house, which today is the pride of all Africans,” he said

Economic Urgency

From a Moroccan government standpoint postponing the Africa Cup of Nations was a matter of economic urgency considering the risk of an Ebola outbreak that could bring the country’s fragile health infrastructure to its knees and harm a tourism sector that earns the country over $10 billion each year, and employs 400,000 people.

A single Ebola incident in the country would potentially deter thousands of tourists from making yearly sojourns to the south Mediterranean.

But on the contrary Morocco’s state-owned airline, Royal Air Maroc, continues to fly to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, three west African countries that have been severely hurt by the Ebola surge.

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation even accepted a request from the Guinean national team and Guinean club, Horoya AC, to host their international fixtures during the AFCON qualifiers.

For Equatorial Guinea, the ball game is all different. First the oil rich state of just 740,000 people doesn’t have vibrant tourism industry that could be compromised by an Ebola outbreak.

The country also has a well set up sport infrastructure. In the off-shore capital Malabo, the Obiang stadium can host upto 40,000, while the stadium in the second host city of Bata can carry 15,000.

Bata and Malabo hosted three matches in 2012, but two new cities have been added for this competition: Ebibiyin, which borders Cameroon to the north, and Mongomo, which borders Gabon to the south, but these two stadiums are not yet FIFA-approved.

Equatorial Guinea is however not a footballing nation itself, and had to resort to poaching washed-up players of dual nationalities, much to the chagrin of the local press. Three years ago, their national team was compiled hastily and included naturalized players born in: Brazil, Liberia, Spain, Cote D’Ivoire, and Cameroon.

So it looks like Morocco will have at least a couple of years to serve for their refusal to host the Africa Cup of Nations in January. As for the 15 teams that qualify, they convene in Malabo on December 3rd for the tournament draw. A month later, in spite of the administrative circus, Africa will dispute its 24th Africa Cup of Nations.