CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The Seychelles have forfeited their African Nations Cup qualifying tie against Sierra Leone after refusing the west African nation’s football team entry over Ebola virus fears.
Sierra Leone, which has declared a state of emergency to quarantine victims of the deadly disease, were due to face the Seychelles in a playoff second leg on Saturday but on Thursday were denied permission to board a Nairobi to Mahe flight. The Seychelles have since said they will forfeit the game, allowing Sierra Leone to advance to the next round.
Seychelles Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon said regular World Health Organisation (WHO) alerts indicated that while the disease has so far been transmitted from epicentres in Liberia, Guinea-Conakry and Sierra Leone over borders by land, there are now strong indications it is also being spread by air travel.
"We cannot let down our guard on the population. Decisions have to take into account possible repercussions to our national economy, tourism while also being in conformity to United Nations conventions,” the Seychelles News Agency quoted Gedeon as saying.
Seychelles Football Association president Elvis Chetty told the BBC the decision to deny entry to the Sierra Leone squad had been made by the island nation's health ministry.
"I would like to state that the Seychelles FA lays no blame at the feet of the Sierra Leone FA for this," he said.
"We have taken the decision because of the advice sent to us by the Seychelles Ministry of Health.
"We also received a letter from the Ministry of Immigration saying it would not allow the Sierra Leone team to enter our jurisdiction.
"They are asking us to postpone the game for an indefinite period, so we feel it is right to forfeit now rather than drag it out."
Competition rules do not allow for postponements of longer than three days, which means the Seychelles either host the game or give up their place in the competition.
The Sierra Leone team, who lead 2-0 from the first leg at home a fortnight ago, had gone through immigration and were waiting to board a plane when they were told by Kenyan Airways they would not be allowed to travel, local media reports said.
There was no immediate comment from the Kenya authorities on the fate of the Sierra Leone team. Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency and called in troops to quarantine Ebola victims, joining neighbouring Liberia in imposing controls as the death toll from the outbreak of the virus hit 729 in west Africa.
The WHO reported 57 new deaths in the four days to July 27 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Korom announced a series of emergency measures, to initially last 60 to 90 days, in a speech on Wednesday night.
"Sierra Leone is in a great fight. Failure is not an option," he said.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; additional reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Rex Gowar and Ken Ferris)