FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Sierra Leone canceled all football matches indefinitely on Tuesday because of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.
The national football association said it will seek permission to play upcoming African Cup qualifiers in other countries and would apply also for health certificates so its home-based players can travel.
The Sierra Leone Football Association announced the move to stop all games after an emergency meeting. It followed a public health emergency declared last week by the country's president banning public gatherings until further notice.
The SLFA will ask the Confederation of African Football for permission to play African Cup qualifiers starting in September in neutral countries, spokesman Abu Bakarr Kamara told The Associated Press.
Ebola has spread rapidly in the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, killing nearly 900 people. Cases have also been reported in Nigeria.
Sierra Leone's national team is due to play in the final round of qualifying for next year's Cup of Nations from Sept. 5. It is scheduled to play its first home game in the qualifiers against Congo on Sept. 10.
Ivory Coast, with Premier League stars like Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, and Cameroon, with Samuel Eto'o, are also due to play against Sierra Leone.
SLFA spokesman Kamara said Gambia, Morocco and Senegal were options for neutral venues for the home games, but even away games will be under scrutiny after the Seychelles refused to allow Sierra Leone's squad to travel to the Indian Ocean island for a qualifier this weekend because of fears over the spread of the deadly fever.
The football association would now apply to the World Health Organization in Freetown for emergency clearance certificates for national team players based in Sierra Leone to allow them to travel for qualifiers, Kamara said.
Sierra Leone authorities ordered people to stay at home on Monday to try and halt the spread of the disease. Liberia had already canceled all football activity because of Ebola, which has no vaccine and an 80 percent fatality rate in this outbreak, the worst ever recorded.
Guinea and Nigeria are also set to play in the final qualifying round for next year's African Cup in Morocco. Liberia has been eliminated.