Seychelles forfeited an African Cup qualifying game and withdrew from the competition on Thursday rather than allow Sierra Leone’s squad to travel to the Indian Ocean island because of fears over the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
The Confederation of African Football confirmed Seychelles’ withdrawal in a statement late Thursday without giving a reason, but Sierra Leone players and officials were earlier barred from boarding a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, that was due to take them to the Seychelles capital of Victoria for Saturday’s qualifier.
Airport authorities in Kenya said they were instructed by Seychelles immigration to prevent the Sierra Leone party from traveling.
Over 700 people have died in West Africa from Ebola, with the worst recorded outbreak in history centered in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. One person has also died in Nigeria. The disease has no vaccine and a 60 percent fatality rate.
Sierra Leone already led the two-leg tie 2-0 after winning in Freetown two weeks ago, and progresses to the final group stage in qualifying for the African Cup next year in Morocco. CAF said it accepted Seychelles’ withdrawal but would investigate the reasons behind it.
“The organizing committee of the Africa Cup of Nations will examine the case of the withdrawal of Seychelles, which came at a time that Sierra Leone had started the journey for the return leg,” CAF said.
The Seychelles Football Federation couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The BBC reported it was following orders from government.
“We have taken the decision because of the advice sent to us by the Seychelles Ministry of Health,” the BBC quoted SFF President Elvis Chetty as saying. “We also received a letter from the Ministry of Immigration saying it would not allow the Sierra Leone team to enter our jurisdiction.”
The Ebola outbreak forced the Liberia Football Association to cancel all games indefinitely in that country this week.
“Whenever there is a game, a lot of people come together and we want to discourage gathering at this point,” LFA President Hassan Bility said.
The LFA also asked FIFA to reschedule visits by top officials including president Sepp Blatter that were planned for August and September.