With barely some hours before the start of the 2023 Championship of African Nations (CHAN), defending champions, Morocco has rescinded their decision to withdraw from the competition being staged in neighbouring Algeria.
On Thursday, January 12, Morocco, champions in 2018 and 2020, announced they were pulling out of the competition after Algeria failed to grant them permission to fly directly from Rabat to Constatine via national carrier, Air Maroc.
The Moroccan Federation (FRMF) in announcing the decision to pull out, explained that it was because "the final authorization of its Royal Air Maroc (RAM) flight, the official carrier of the Moroccan football teams, from Rabat to Constantine has not been confirmed" by Algeria, the host country of the competition.
Advisor to the President of FRMF, Mohamed Makrouf, Fouzi Lekjaa, told the media that "We have not received anything at the moment. The players are training and we will go as soon as our flight is authorized._ We are waiting for this authorization from CAF (African Football Confederation) which must receive it from the Algerian authorities".
There has been an ongoing diplomatic row between Algeria and Morocco for more than 40 years mainly over Western Sahara and its quest for independence, with both countries taking entrenched positions.
While Morocco considers its sovereignty over Western Sahara as a non-negotiable national cause, which drives its foreign policy, Algeria supports the pro-independence Polisario Front.
In September 2021, Algeria decided to close all its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military aircraft and aircraft registered in Morocco with immediate effect, according to a statement by the Algerian presidency.
The move was taken during a meeting of the High-Security Council (HCS), chaired by the Head of State Abdelmadjid Tebboune, also Minister of Defense. and is devoted to the examination of "developments at the borders with the Kingdom of Morocco".
This decision came a month after the announcement on August 24, 2021, by Algeria to sever all diplomatic relations with Morocco, following months of heightened tensions between the two rival countries of the Maghreb.
The feud has sometimes been overstretched as last October, Morocco protested against Adidas new design for Algeria football jerseys.
Rabat asked Adidas to withdraw the new tops, accusing it of appropriating "Moroccan cultural heritage" due to the use of a pattern known as "zellige", common in Moroccan ceramic mosaics.
A lawyer acting for the culture ministry demanded the withdrawal within two weeks of the jerseys which he claimed were "inspired" by the colourful Moroccan designs.
Adidas later reported a "positive resolution" to the dispute following talks with the ministry, and the tops, worn by the Algerian team for pre-match warm-ups, will not be withdrawn.
"The design was inspired indeed by the zellige mosaics pattern, and was at no time intended to offend anyone," said the company in a statement.
Aware of this tension, Morocco said they sought clarification on flight plans for the 2023 CHAN and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had informed the FRMF on December 22, that "an authorisation in principle had been obtained", according to the press release.
However, as of last Thursday, Morocco had not received the clearance to fly the team straight to Constatine where they will be based for their Group D campaign.
An intervention, reportedly from football’s world governing body, FIFA president, Gianni Infantino and not CAF, saw Morocco making changing their minds over boycotting the tournament.
A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "The Moroccan national team will travel tomorrow to Algeria to participate in CHAN. The departure will be from Salé airport.”
Morocco is drawn in Group C alongside Ghana, Madagascar and Sudan.
They play their opening game against Sudan on Sunday while Ghana plays Madagascar also on the same day.