The Moroccan Football Association condemned, on Saturday, what it described as “vile practices” and “racist expressions” at the opening of the African Nations Championship for locals in Algeria, which Morocco is absent due to the acute diplomatic crisis with its neighbor, which has moved to the sports field.
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation said in a statement that it “denounces the vile practices and absurd maneuvers that accompanied the opening of the African Championship for local players (…) after a speech was given out of context to pass political fallacies that have nothing to do with football.”
The opening ceremony, which was hosted on Friday at Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers, was marked by a speech by his grandson, Chef Zouli Follel, on the Western Sahara conflict. It is the conflict, which has strained relations between Morocco and Algeria for decades, as he said, “Let us not forget the last colony in Africa, Western Sahara, to fight for its liberation.”
The Moroccan Federation considered this “a flagrant violation of the laws governing football demonstrations that are held under the banner of the Confederation of African Football,” explaining that it had written to the federation “to assume its full responsibilities in the face of these blatant violations.”
South Africa, along with Algeria, is one of the most important supporters of the Polisario Front, which is demanding the independence of the disputed region. While Morocco historically considers it an integral part of its soil, and controls about 80 percent of it, proposing to grant it autonomy.
While the Polisario Front calls for a referendum for self-determination under the auspices of the United Nations.
Tension increased between Morocco and Algeria when the latter announced in the summer of 2021 the severance of its relations with Rabat, accusing it of “committing hostile acts.” While the latter expressed regret for this decision, and rejected its “false justifications.”
The Moroccan Federation also condemned Saturday “the racist expressions directed at the Moroccan fans”, during the same ceremony.
A video spread on social media in the Kingdom showed some of the fans who attended the opening ceremony hesitating insults against Moroccans.
This tension comes in light of Morocco’s absence from the tournament due to Algeria closing its airspace to Moroccan planes since September 2021.
While the Moroccan Federation pledged its participation in the tournament by traveling on a direct flight to the Algerian city of Constantine on a Moroccan plane.
Morocco won the title for the last two editions, in 2018 at home and 2020 in Cameroon.