Morocco, Algeria dispute over shirts leads to second cancellation

Players of Algeria's USM Alger leave the stadium (FADEL SENNA)
Players of Algeria's USM Alger leave the stadium (FADEL SENNA)

For the second straight week, an African Confederation Cup match between Renaissance Berkane and Algerian side USM Alger was cancelled in a dispute over a map on the Moroccan team's shirts.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) awarded Berkane a 3-0 victory in the first leg of their semi-final, cancelled last Sunday when the Moroccan club refused to take the field after Algerian officials confiscated their shirts.

On Sunday in Berkane, only the home players took the field and they saluted their fans as the stadium announcer told the crowd the match had been cancelled.

Moroccan television reported that the USM team left the stadium just before the scheduled 1900 GMT kickoff.

The row began when the Moroccan squad arrived in Algeria last week ahead of the first-leg tie.

Customs officers confiscated Berkane's shirts on the grounds that they carried a map of Morocco that included the disputed Western Sahara.

Shortly before the first leg kick-off, USM Alger sporting director Toufik Korichi told Algerian radio that the match would not be played because Berkane refused to take to the pitch in any other shirts

The former Spanish colony of Western Sahara is largely controlled by Morocco but claimed by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks the territory's independence.

Algeria broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco in 2021, partly over the issue.

Before kick-off on Sunday, Renaissance supporters held up a banner with a map of Morocco showing the disputed territory. Many fans waved Moroccan flags.

On Saturday, business was brisk in the official shop selling Berkane shirts.

"There's a huge demand," said Soufiane Al Korchi, a representative of the official distributor of the Moroccan team shirt, adding that the "map has been part of the official design for three years".

The Algerian football federation has lodged an appeal against the CAF sanction with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, arguing that the Cairo-based body had "validated the request of the Moroccan club, RS Berkane, to wear a shirt with a political message".