As the Ebola virus continues to ravage West Africa, sport has become the latest casualty. Africa’s soccer governing body CAF has banned Guinea and Sierra Leone from hosting any matches until mid-September.
DW: How has the outbreak of the Ebola virus affected African football?
Erick Mwanza: It is a great concern, CAF is following with great concern what is happening in West Africa regarding the Ebola outbreak. That is why we (CAF) decided during the week to move all Africa Cup of Nations fixtures away from countries that are battling the Ebola virus. Guinea is one of them, their match against Togo has been moved. And then you have got Sierra Leone as well, who are still looking for a venue for their match on September 10. We have taken these initiatives so that we can be able to contribute positively to try and halt the spread of Ebola.
How are the players reacting to these changes in match venues?
For the affected countries fortunately, they understand the reasons why we had to take these initiatives. We haven't received any complaints. The moment CAF's Secretary General Hicham El Amrani wrote to the three countries and told them football activities would be halted, we received positive response which is commendable. The players understand, of course, they know they are loosing the advantage of playing at home and the fans would not have the opportunity to watch their stars, but it is in their best interests. We would rather not take any risks which might expose the players and the fans to any potential dangers.
You have mentioned fans, have there been any complaints from them?
We have not heard of any complaints that have come directly to us, maybe with the member associations. But I think the absence of the complaints from the fans goes down to show that they understand the dangers that Ebola poses and the threat that is there.
They also want to have a situation where Ebola is completely brought under control. We stop the deaths and we stop the spread of this disease. Mind you, in January next year we will have the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Morocco. This is the biggest soccer championship in Africa; it attracts fans from across the continent, from Europe, Asia, all over the world. Guinean fans would want to travel if they qualify; the same goes for the Sierra Leonean fans. Can you imagine a situation where you still have Ebola cases being recorded every other day in Guinea or Sierra Leone and they qualify? It means the authorities in Morocco might have a challenge, CAF might have a challenge in getting the fans to move there. That is why at this stage, they are cooperating and supporting these initiatives.
Lesotho refused to send its team to Nigeria, consequently they were disqualified by CAF, was that a fair thing to do?
Lesotho's refusal to travel to Nigeria was based on what their government decided. They decided that (not flying to Nigeria) was in the best interest of the Republic of Lesotho, it is a step that they felt they needed to take. CAF can not interfere with the decisions made by individual states, we apply the regulations of soccer as they are. We sympathize with the Lesotho national team that would probably have wanted to continue. It is a similar situation with the Republic of the Seychelles, they did not go ahead to host Sierra Leone and therefore forfeited the chance to get to the final phase of the competition.
Erick Mwanza is the media manager of the Confederation of African Football (CAF)
Interview: Asumpta Lattus