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How Is Ebola Impacting Soccer In Africa?

I woke up early the other morning to watch my beloved Sierra Leone national team play. It was their “home” match against Ivory Coast for a spot in the African Nations Cup tournament to be held in Equatorial Guinea January 2015. The problem was that Sierra Leone could not play this game on home soil because of the dreadful Ebola pandemic in our beautiful country. And that is very sad because nothing compares to playing in front of your own fans.

 You cannot understand how weird it feels until you stand on the field while they go through the normal rituals for an international match. The visiting teams’ national anthem is normally played first and then the home team. The visiting team keeps standing where they stood for their national anthem and the home team will file pass them and shake their hands saying welcome to our country and the visiting team gets to choose what they want with the coin toss. Now think of all that in reverse and then imagine the fans cheering louder for the home team which is not you but them….it is so deflating.

 I had to do that twice when I was playing for Sierra Leone because of the civil war that ravaged the country in the 90s. We played against Togo  and Algeria as the home team on their soil and lost both games just like these brave boys did this morning. I was looking at their faces during the national anthem and could see the stress they were going through and I could relate to it.

 Ebola has caused a lot of problems in Sierra Leone. Even sports, which is normally the bridge that bring people together in times of strife and peril, has been sidelined by Ebola.

Today would have been a festive day in Freetown had this game been played there. There would have been drummers and dancers in the streets, restaurants and bars with televisions would have been jam-packed and the stadium would have been a sight to behold but no, it is exactly the reverse. I am pretty sure that only a handful of people saw that game on television while the others were busy trying to stay alive and burying their loved ones who were not so lucky.

 Now the people of Morocco are about to suffer because their government’s decision to withdraw from being the host of the African Nations Cup in 2015. The government has expressed concerns about the Ebola outbreak and are worried that visiting fans might bring it to their country. Because of that decision, their national team has been banned from the tournament and further sanctions will follow from Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA.

 The influx of tourists during the tournament would have been a boost to their economy, especially small businesses. I am pretty sure most business owners were looking forward to this tournament and have been spending money on products and improving their businesses to attract customers but they have been sidelined by Ebola.

 It brings tears to my eyes writing this because nobody asked for this. Ebola has won for now and it’s time for the world to fight back. Sports is a very powerful medium and it is normally a form of therapy during bad times.

 This Ebola craziness must be stopped because it has affected every aspect of life as we know it. The Leone Stars are needed in Sierra Leone. Not only for the people’s love of the sport but as an escape.My country, Sierra Leone, are experiencing very bad times right now and that therapy is nowhere to be found. So sad, so very sad.


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