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African club semi-final fails to take place following dispute over Moroccan club’s jersey

ALGERIAN side USM Alger’s African Confederation Cup semi-final first-leg tie against Morocco’s Renaissance Berkane did not go ahead because of a political dispute over the visiting team’s jersey, leaving the outcome of the tie in doubt.

The Berkane shirt features an expansive map of Morocco, including the disputed Western Sahara which has been a bone of contention between Rabat and Algiers, with the border between the neighbouring North African countries closed since the 1990s.

When the Moroccan side arrived in Algeria on Friday, their kit was confiscated by customs and the team detained at the airport for several hours before being allowed to proceed to their hotel, media reported.

Algeria see the map, which is displayed in the centre of the jersey, as a provocation and local media commentators claimed it was illegal to make a political statement on a football jersey.

But Berkane used the same jersey throughout this year’s competition and the Confederation of African Football upheld their right to wear it in Sunday’s first leg in Algiers after a hastily convened meeting of their inter-clubs committee.

Both sides arrived at the stadium in Algiers for Sunday’s match but while holders USMA came out for the kick off, Berkane remained in their change room, presumably in protest at not being able to wear their kit.

It was not immediately clear what action would be taken by the Confederation of African Football and there was no comment from African football’s governing body.

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Tensions over Western Sahara have tarnished relations since Morocco annexed the territory after Spain left in 1975. Western Sahara is sparsely populated with phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds.

Morocco staked a claim to the territory while it was under Spanish colonial rule. At the same time, Sahrawi people living there formed the Polisario Front to push for independence.

Backed by Algeria, the Polisario waged a guerrilla war until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991, with Morocco controlling about four-fifths of the territory.

By The African Mirror

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