Algeria, the host country of the 2023 African Nations Championship (CHAN) U-17, has rejected Morocco's request to open its airspace to allow the Moroccan national football team to travel to the neighbouring country on a direct Royal Air Maroc (RAM) flight. At the press conference, the president of the sports events organising committee, Rachid Oukali, said: "We are only obliged to provide transport for the participating teams within the national territory". Oukali said that all arrangements related to the team's travel to Algeria, including flight routes, are the sole responsibility of the countries involved. "Most of the African countries coming to Algeria will have stopovers," he added, explaining that it was not the committee's responsibility to provide direct flights for the teams.
Oukali's response came a day after the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), Fouzi Lekjaa, announced the conditions for Morocco's participation in CHAN 2023. Lekjaa said Morocco would not play unless a Royal Air Maroc plane flew the team from the Moroccan capital Rabat to Constantine in northeastern Algeria, where the "Lions of the Atlas" team would play their matches. The tournament will take place in Algeria between 13 January and 4 February 2023, with a total of 17 teams taking part, including Senegal, Libya, Ivory Coast and Ghana, among others.
Relations between Algeria and Morocco have historically been strained due to Algerian support for separatism in the Western Sahara region of southern Morocco. But the long-running diplomatic dispute between the two countries reached a new low in August last year after Algiers announced its decision to cut all ties with Rabat while Moroccan diplomacy made notable progress on the Western Sahara issue. As justification for its decision to cut ties with Morocco, Algeria accused the kingdom of trying to undermine Algerian interests and destabilise the country. In particular, Algiers accused Rabat, without evidence, of involvement in the forest fires that ravaged Algeria's northern regions last year.
Morocco has denied Algeria's "unfounded accusations" and has sought to open dialogue. But with Algiers shutting down Rabat's attempts, relations remain strained between the two North African neighbours. Nabil Andaloussi, president of the Maghreb Centre for Research and Strategic Studies considered that the Algerian regime does not distinguish in its hostility towards Morocco between sports, culture, science and politics, and after its initiative to break diplomatic relations with Morocco, this hostility has become an important heading in its foreign and domestic policy alike, and every time an opportunity arises, it reaffirms it.
Morocco recently linked the fate of its participation in the tournament to the condition that it agrees to transfer the team's delegation on a special flight from the capital Rabat to the Algerian city of Constantine, which hosts the defending champions' matches in the last two editions. "The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) has written to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) regarding the observance of the terms of the term sheet for organising African championships, especially with regard to facilitating the conditions of the participating teams," the Moroccan federation said in a statement after a meeting on Tuesday.
Tensions are running high in the wake of the inconvenience suffered by the Alawi team and several countries have taken a stand in Rabat's favour. Egypt, Tunisia, Cameroon and Uganda are among the countries that, despite apologising, will not take part in what they see as a competition "tainted by Algeria".