The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations will no longer take place in Morocco, it has been confirmed by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). And, in a surprising development, Morocco has been excluded from the competition.
Morocco had requested the postponement of the competition due to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and failed to confirm its intention to host the tournament last weekend. Many saw Morocco's decision to ask for a postponement as sensible given the outbreak of Ebola. However, in addition to being stripped of hosting duties, the Morocco national team have been disqualified from the competition, which is due to get under way on January 17.
Morocco were initially awarded the competition in January 2011, beating off competition from DR Congo and South Africa.
Concerns over the virus led to Morocco calling for the tournament to be postponed due to "health reasons dictated by the highest danger".
The Moroccan Ministry of Sport suggested it should instead be played in 2016 and 2017, but the stand-off with CAF continued until an Executive Committee meeting in Cairo on Tuesday.
The committee took note of a letter from the Minister of Youth and Sports of the Kingdom of Morocco calling for the postponement and, with CAF previously sticking to its stance that the dates would remain unmoved, it was decided that Morocco would not host the competition.
Furthermore, CAF also stated that Morocco would not be allowed to feature in the tournament.
"Having firmly and unanimously notified on 3 November its decision to keep the competition on the dates indicated, the Executive Committee confirmed that the Orange Africa Cup of Nations 2015 will not take place in Morocco," read a statement from CAF.
"The Executive Committee confirms the continuation of qualifiers match-days 5 and 6, which will be held during the month (14/15 November and 19 November), paving the way for the qualification of the 15 teams that will be joining the team of the host country.
"Accordingly, and following the refusal of the Moroccan party, the Executive Committee has decided that the national team of Morocco is automatically disqualified and will not take part in the 30th edition of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations in 2015."
CAF also confirmed applications from nations eager to step in and host the tournament are being considered and that the final selection will be made shortly.
"The Executive Committee will finalise the selection of the successful National Association shortly and confirm the place and date of the draw of the final tournament at the same time," CAF added.
|"A petty decision" - Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou, centre, at meeting in Cairo on November 11.|
The BBC reports that the contenders are Gabon, who co-hosted in 2012 with Equatorial Guinea, has been mentioned, but they only have two stadiums available. Angola hosted in 2010 and have the stadia and the financial ability to host at short notice. Tunisia hosted in 2004 and has the venues, but recent political turmoil and violence at football matches might count them out. Algeria is one of seven nations who have said they want to host the 2017 tournament and are the only ones who might be in a position to host earlier. Nigeria has the stadia after hosting the under-17 World Cup in 2009 and a brand new facility in Akwa-Ibom state. But presidential elections are set for a week after the tournament.
CAF had already approached seven countries to act as possible short-notice hosts: South Africa, Egypt, Sudan and Ghana have all indicated they are unwilling to replace Morocco, because of the Ebola threat.
Local Moroccan reaction has been outraged by the petty action of CAF to enforce the exclusion of Morocco from the tournament - especially as their request for a postponement was backed by health professionals, the most prominent of which was that the WHO was recommending the cancellation of large gatherings because of the Ebola the outbreak.