Playing Ebola football on Planet CAF

Issa Hayatou, CAF President One of the issues trending heavily in Ghana’s social media-scape can best be put as a question: should Ghana host the 2015 version of the African Nation Football Tournament or not?

This could be an interesting debate in Parliament, if our Parliament were so disposed to debate issues of this nature in an expeditious and timely manner. In the absence of a parliamentary debate, the people have to come to their own conclusion and hope the government would act in the interest of the nation.

The argument has arisen because according to a story carried in the Daily Graphic last Friday, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has contacted Ghana, through the Ghana Football Association (GFA), for our country to host the 2015 AFCON tournament.

The government’s position as expressed by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Mahama Ayariga, is that the government has the capacity to host the tournament. Mr Ayariga has obviously misjudged the mood of the nation on this issue and it would be unwise for the government to give CAF the go-ahead.

The situation has come about because Morocco, the original host, has sent a request to CAF to postpone the AFCON because of Ebola but the African football authority has rejected the call and instead set its mind on staging the finals in another African country. Ghana is one of the countries to which CAF has sent its request to stage the tournament.

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research have both come out against the hosting plan as have a myriad of organisations, including Occupy Ghana, which had issued a stinging statement, but so far, this issue has not taken on the usual NDC-NPP colouration, which has enabled it to be balanced and logical. It would be catastrophic for the opinions of the GMA and Noguchi, which would be on the frontlines in any Ebola situation, to be ignored.

Interestingly, South Africa finds itself in a similar situation. As in Ghana, many South Africans have expressed dismay that their government even appears to be “considering” the CAF request. Social media in South Africa has been scathing in condemning CAF for making the request instead of postponing the tournament.

That is my stand too. I am not only against Ghana hosting the Finals but I take the view that the government of Ghana must take the lead in asking CAF to postpone the tournament.

I have heard CAF’s counter-argument which is that it has never postponed the tournament under any circumstances. This is childish and meaningless in the present context. We are not in a normal situation.

We are in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crisis ever so CAF has to take the reality of the situation into account. We don’t need to be reminded about the scope of this epidemic but so far, more than 4,000 people have died and according to the World Health Organisation prognosis, the spread of this disease could get worse before it begins to get better.

CAF appears to live in a parallel universe. Everyone on Planet Earth knows that Ebola, in the words of the UK Shadow Minister of International Cooperation, does not need a passport to travel.

Everyone on Planet Earth knows that one of the necessary measures against the spread of the dreaded disease is to quarantine people. Only the people on Planet CAF think it is a good idea to bring people together from different African countries at the time of Ebola.

Allowing the qualifying series to be played is bad enough; it violates the rights of the affected countries which are not allowed to play their home games at home. As we all know, there is something called “home advantage” of which the affected nations are deprived. Therefore, it is not an equal playing field.

The overall results of the qualification must be declared null and void in the interest of natural justice. Before the last round of qualification matches, Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp urged AFCON organisers to put health first and football second.

It is also insensitive and crass for CAF to be organising a tournament when thousands of Africans are dying and millions are at risk. Planet CAF may not have heard of the word “solidarity”, but it understands self-interest. In its own interest, CAF must show active solidarity with the people of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and all other countries that are at risk, including Ghana.

Ghana chairs ECOWAS, the regional organisation of West African States and as we all know, as far as the international media is concerned, Ebola is a West African disease.

President Mahama, who chairs ECOWAS, must take the lead in persuading CAF to postpone the tournament. He owes it to the people and governments in ECOWAS. Furthermore, Accra hosts the UN Response Centre for Ebola, so how can our government even be considering hosting an event that has the potential to make the situation worse.

The current Ebola epidemic is one of the worst health crises of our time. Beating it must be at the top of the global agenda. Africa is in the grip of this fever.

Any sensible continent so ravaged would postpone every event at which this disease could spread. So why not postpone the Nations Cup competition completely until the Ebola epidemic is beaten. Persisting in playing the tournament, (and Ghana’s apparent willingness to host it) is insensitive and reckless.

The government must not allow CAF and the GFA to lead it astray. Many people believe that the GFA and CAF are discredited organisations whose credibility is no better than that of FIFA.

These associations are perceived to be Mafia-like organisations completely remote from the ordinary football lover who follows the game and supports it with their money and passion. Some of these people are in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which are countries unknown on Planet CAF where the AFCON finals can be staged.

The writer is the President of the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and a media consultant.

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