Monday, 11 August 2014
Ebola crisis grips African sports
The outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa may cripple sporting activities on the continent if not checked on time, reports ’TANA AIYEJINA
Sports in Africa may soon be facing trying times after the deadliest ever outbreak of the Ebola virus hit the western part of the continent in recent months, causing panic and fear among people living in countries where it took place.
There have been reported cases of the virus in the West African region, with Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia highly affected while there have been few cases of it in Nigeria. It has reportedly had 1,711 casualties in West Africa, with 932 of them dead.
The symptoms of the virus, reportedly first diagnosed in 1976, include muscle pain, fever, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and headache. It can also lead to reduced functioning of the liver and kidneys, before severe bleeding occurs, followed by death.
Transmission of the virus can occur through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids such as sweat, from an infected person, which makes it dangerous for sports people, who are engaged in contact sports in Africa.
Sporting activities generally results to lots of sweating, one of the likely means of contacting Ebola, thus increasing fears in the African sports industry of a widespread of the virus.
The deadly virus caused a stir at the just concluded Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, when concerns were raised about Sierra Leonean 32-year-old cyclist Moses Sesay suffering from the disease, after he fell sick and was admitted to a hospital close to the athletes village.
This led to suggestions in the media that Ebola was widespread at the Games but Sesay was cleared of the virus and went on to compete in the cycling event.
Already, there are fears that there could be a major boycott of top continental competitions by countries that may be likely pitted against countries which has suffered from the outbreak of the virus.
On Wednesday, the third edition of the Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation taekwondo championship, scheduled for Abuja, was postponed till further notice “due to the current spread of the Ebola virus in the West African region.”
A statement by the organisers of the CCSF, made available to our correspondent via SMS, read, “Eleven countries confirmed to participate in the championships, nine of them from West Africa; and over 1, 500 persons expected at the two-day event, but the health and safety of the people is important.”
The Sierra Leone national team, the Leone Stars, were last weekend denied entry to Seychelles by the Island’s immigration officials ahead of a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier scheduled for Victoria, the capital city, due to the virus. Sierra Leone has the most confirmed cases of the virus: 574 including 252 deaths since the virus spread from neighbouring Guinea in May.
Seychelles consequently withdrew from the AFCON qualifiers over fears that their players and even officials could contact the disease during the continental match, while Sierra Leone moved on to the Group stage.
However, Sierra Leone’s participation in the qualifiers may have hit the rocks, after the country suspended all football activities with immediate effect in a bid to curtail the spread of the virus.
They play Ivory Coast away before hosting DR Congo in Group D next month and officials of the Sierra Leone Football Association are hopeful of playing on a neutral ground if the country does not lift the ban before their next games.
“We’re hoping that the Ebola disease would be contained before our home game against DR Congo and we’ll be able to play them in Freetown,” SLFA member Abu Bakarr Kamara was quoted as saying by africanfootball.com.
But it remains to be seen if their next opponents will be willing to play the upcoming games against the Leone Stars in any venue.
Liberia had earlier, also suspended all football activities in the country in an effort to control the spread of the virus. The West African country’s Ebola case count has risen to 329, including 156 deaths, according to latest statistics from the World Health Organisation.
Spokesman of the Nigeria Football Federation, Ademola Olajire, said the football body would act on the directives of the health ministry.
Olajire said, “It (Ebola) is rampant and much widespread in those countries (where football has been stopped). “It’s a health matter; we have not been informed by the Ministry of Health that it has gotten to that level in Nigeria and that we have to stop football.
“We will be waiting for the health ministry for updates and on what to do, but we will not hesitate to do what is necessary, if it is necessary.”
After the postponement of the CCSF tourney, fears that more continental competitions may suffer cancellations, boycotts and withdrawals have been rife, with the adverse effect being a loss of money for athletes and sponsors of these events.
But General Manager, MultiChoice Nigeria, Martin Mabutho, is optimistic the virus will not have any negative effect on sports marketing in Africa, saying his organisation has joined in the fight against Ebola.
Mabutho said, “We have to wait and see what happens over the next couple of weeks. The virus has struck before but it didn’t affect sports or the marketing aspect. We still saw sports people doing their jobs, African countries competed in international competitions and nothing happened.
“The Williams sisters came to Africa to play tennis around the time there was Ebola outbreak. It has come again, but it’s my hope that we will stop it. We take comfort in the fact that this is not the first time it has affected the continent, because anytime it comes up, health officials have moved swiftly to curtail the spread of it and we’ve gone back to our normal lives.
“As a responsible corporate organisation, we need to play our own part in trying to stop it. We have a programme to do on-air messages, public service announcements to urge people to be careful.”
Sports medicine practitioner, Dr. Bukola Bojuwoye, said sporting activities could still take place across the country without fear of contracting the virus.
“It’s obvious that since it has high incidents rates in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, then you’ll have to stop contact. But we haven’t got to that level in Nigeria, where we need to stop football or sporting activities because of Ebola. But if the incidents become higher, we may need to stop as well,” the former Falconets team doctor said.
“At the moment, Nigeria is not in an epidemic state. The scare of the disease is based on contact and the kind of contact you have in sports is not the kind of long term contact compared to someone who is in daily contact with someone with the virus for a long period of time.
“For now, until we know that it is very rampant in our society, I don’t advise we stop any sporting activities for now,” he added.
Bojuwoye shed more light on the virus as regards sporting activities.
He said, “Sports may not be affected but the panic that has gripped the people is leading a lot of people not to have the proper information about the real transmission of the disease.
“At the moment, you don’t get to that contact level until you fall very ill because if the person is still moving, but has a virus in him, you can’t get a contact from him. But by the time the virus gets into the body fluids, the person will become sick and will be in the hospital. Such a person won’t be fit for sporting activities any longer. Most people that fall ill through contact with the disease are health care givers, who are helping those affected by the virus.”
But he advised that precaution must be taken, when Nigeria play against countries with a widespread rate of the virus.
“We need to take our normal precautions that have to do with health. If it’s necessary that we won’t go, then we stay back at home. But if we have to, then we have to make sure we wash our hands, and ensure that there are lots of sanitisers and face masks at our disposals. Maybe we can do all these but until WHO advises us further, we cannot take action on that,” Bojuwoye added.
But newly elected President, FIBA-Africa Zone 3 (West African region), Col Sam Amedu (retd), said there was no cause for alarm.
“The virus has caused a lot of damage in the region already, so we should not add more panic among the people. What I can tell you is that Ebola has not affected basketball in West Africa,” Amedu said.
Even the fans may not be spared. Sports arenas are mostly built in such a way that spectators have bodily contact while cheering their teams or sportsmen and women. In fact, excited fans sometimes kiss and even hug while sweating in the stands.
At the grassroots level, families have already started taking precautions.
Mr. John Aikhore said he has withdrawn his 12-year-old son from his football academy in Egbeda, on the outskirts of Lagos.
“They say prevention is better than cure. The virus is new to Nigerians and we don’t have proper information about it yet, so I decided to withdraw my son from the academy until further notice. If things get better, he will resume at the academy, because I want him to become a world-class footballer,” Aikhore said.