The defending champions of the African Nations for Championships (CHAN) tournament, Morocco, have shockingly pulled out of this year’s competition just a day to kickoff.
In announcing its decision on Thursday, the North African country blamed the host Algeria, its neighbour and arch-rival, for closing its airspace to Moroccan flights.
“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 Morocco’s FRMF football federation said in a statement.
It said the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had informed it last month that Algeria had issued “an authorisation in principle” for the flight.
However, just a day before the tournament commences on Friday January 12, 2023, the FRMF said it “notes with regret that the definitive authorisation for the flight from Rabat to Constantine has unfortunately not been confirmed.”
Algeria closed its airspace to all Moroccan flights in September 2021, the month after it cut off diplomatic ties with its rival, accusing it of “hostile acts”.
That was the latest escalation in a long-running rivalry fuelled by the Western Sahara dispute and relations with Israel.
Morocco have won the past two African Nations Championships. The country recently made history by becoming the first African or Arab team ever to reach the semi-finals of a FiFa World Cup.