Morocco pulls out of African Nations Championship over Algeria ‘flight ban’

Relations between the two north African neighbours have soured since Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021

Reigning champions Morocco have pulled out of the African Nations Championship. Reuters
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Morocco have pulled out of the African Nations Championship blaming the host and neighbour Algeria for preventing the national football team from reaching the games because it closed its airspace.

"The Moroccan national team is unable to reach [the Algerian city of] Constantine because permission for their flight with Royal Air Maroc, the team's official transporter, has not been confirmed," the FRMF, Morocco's football federation, said in a statement on Thursday.

It said the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had informed it last month that Algeria had issued "an authorisation in principle" for the flight.

But only 24 hours before the tournament starts on Friday, the FRMF said it "notes with regret that the definitive authorisation for the flight from Rabat to Constantine has unfortunately not been confirmed".

The biennial games bring together teams drawn from players in the national leagues of 18 countries across the continent.

Morocco made history last month by becoming the first African or Arab team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. The country has won the past two African Nations Championships, putting them level with the Democratic Republic of Congo as the most successful teams in the tournament.

Strained relations between Algeria and Morocco have soured since the government in Algiers cut diplomatic ties with Rabat in 2021. Algeria accused Morocco of “hostile acts” after a string of diplomatic incidents and the collapse of a 30-year ceasefire in the Sahara, a key point of tension between the two countries.

Rabat considers the former Spanish colony in the Sahara region an integral part of its kingdom, a view supported by the majority of Arab states.

But Algeria backs an armed independence movement that has waged an insurgency against the government for decades.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in November invited Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune for talks in Rabat to end the tensions after he did not attend the first Arab League summit in three years hosted by Algeria.

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Updated: January 12, 2023, 5:13 PM