The over 40 years of political rivalry between Morocco and Algeria has found its way into African football, leaving the Atlas Lions out of the 2023 African Nations Championship (CHAN) ongoing in Algiers.
The two-time Champions failed to participate in the continental competition due to political and territorial disputes with neighbours, Algeria despite CAF and FIFA’s efforts to reach an agreement with the host nation.
The historical background of the division between the two Arab nations boils down to 1994 when Morocco accused Algeria’s security services of being behind an attack against them, which resulted in the killing of two Spaniards who resided in Morocco.
Due to this, the Moroccan government, imposed visa restrictions on the Algerians and the Algerian government also decided to close their border with Morocco, a wealthy territorial grounds of a dispute between these nations.
The increasing number of voices for these countries to reconcile was growing every day but Algeria was not ready to reach an agreement with their neighbours, stating emphatically that border reopening was not a priority of the government.
Morocco was forced to engage Israel in an agreement in 2020 to begin direct flights, promote economic cooperation, reopen liaison offices and move toward full diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations.
This partnership sparked up issues between the two nations as Algeria concluded that Morocco and Israel were in support of “the Movement for the self-determination of Kabyle”, a political force of the Berber ethnic group in North Algeria.
These individuals were seeking autonomy and self-determination rights of the Kabyle province from their country which President Abdelmadjid Tebboune of Algeria accusing the two nations of being the main brain behind the plot, and led to Algeria’s decision to break ties with Morocco in 2021.
In September of that year, Algeria again decided to ban all Moroccan planes from its airspace which was the reason Morocco’s national team could not fly directly into Algiers to participate in this year’s CHAN tourney.
The question is: Is African football now a platform to echo politics or to promote unity?
The level of politics shown at the ongoing CHAN tournament could go a long way to affect the development of the sport.
At the opening ceremony in Algiers, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zwelivelile Mandela who was a guest of the Local Organising Committee, was handed the platform to make some political statements that were unhealthy for the sport.
“The last colony of Africa, Western Sahara. Let us fight to free Western Sahara from oppression,” Zwelivelile said.
Imprisoned by the situation, CAF in a statement released said it would begin investigations and review the words of the South African per the rules of FIFA and CAF.
As part of the reconciliation process, Rabat hosted the FIFA Club World Cup draw which provided an opportunity for Morocco and Algeria to unite, but FIFA’s target could not be met.
Going forward, the two North African countries would have to put aside their political differences when it comes to major tournaments on the continent.
Algeria would be hosting the 2023 Under-17 Nations Cup as neighbours Morocco would also host the Under-23 Nations Cup.
Another worrying issue at the moment is CAF’s decision to choose hosts for the 2025 African Cup of Nations, where Morocco and Algeria are favorites to be given the nod to host the African tournament.
Politics and Sports are two elements that should not go hand in hand but at the same time are inseparable in running affairs.
Today, many have called on the World Football body, FIFA to take legal action against Algeria for not allowing the defending Champions to fly in directly due to political differences.