The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying resumes Saturday and will conclude Wednesday. At this point, except for a few teams who have played five, everyone has played four games in their qualifying group and have two games left. So far, the only teams qualified are Algeria, Cape Verde and Tunisia. Morocco was supposed to be in the tournament due to hosting but that is a long story that takes precedence over any result on the field.
A little less than a year ago, the Ebola virus epidemic hit West Africa and everyone was afraid of widespread outbreak and death prompting some countries to take preventive action. One instance, Seychelles forfeited a qualifier against Sierra Leone because they refused to allow any person from Sierra Leone into the country. Now it should be noted that all Sierra Leone players play in locations other than West Africa and hadn’t stepped foot in Sierra Leone since before the epidemic but either way, they weren’t allowed to play or even travel there.
Morocco took things one step further and refused to host the Africa Cup of Nations due to the outbreak. Because of this, Morocco is banned from this tournament. After asking for volunteers and getting interest from countries like Qatar, Nigeria and Egypt, Equatorial Guinea came out as the surprise host, even after they were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. By hosting, Equatorial Guinea are back in the tournament.
The decisions made by those involved shows how afraid many people are. I was a baby when HIV and AIDS hit a fever pitch in the 80’s, but that and the Ebola outbreak seem to be similar in that many people are unnaturally afraid and are overreacting based on ignorance and fear. I’m not saying that someone should have a “laissez faire” approach to Ebola, but something like refusing to allow someone into a country only because their nationality is the same with Ebola victims, even though that person hasn’t stepped foot in the country since is just plain unnecessary. It’s way more important to know how one can get Ebola than just spreading fear. FYI: Ebola is transmitted similar to transmitting HIV/AIDS except Ebola can also be transmitted via bodily fluids like saliva, vomit and feces.
MLS and Sierra Leone players, Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone captain) and Michael Lahoud, have seen the discrimination and stigma that comes as a part of playing for a country currently being affected by Ebola. At this point, I’m just as likely to get Ebola as Kamara and Lahoud but because they represent Sierra Leone, they’re treated differently and seen differently in many eyes. Through it all, they’re still proud to put on the Sierra Leone kit to represent their country and Lahoud created #KickEbolaInTheButt in order to raise money and promote awareness to help with Ebola efforts in Africa.
It’s always important to put people before sport when something serious happens. While some countries feel they have good intentions in restricting travel or refusing to host due to Ebola concerns, those decisions need to be based on fact than based of fear and ignorance. Based on the latest figures by the Center for Disease Control, 14,383 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (Equatorial Guinea and Guinea are separate nations) have the virus resulting in 5,165 deaths. 14,383 out of 20.6 million (.069% of total population) have the virus. It’s obviously not a good idea to base games inside Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea but that’s a different story compared to playing elsewhere with players who play elsewhere. Not everyone in West Africa has Ebola and it’s naive and ignorant to think that everyone does solely due to their nationality. Just like John Kamara’s shirt says at the top, “We are West Africans, we are not a virus.”