Futsal in occupied territory

If you are not familiar with the history of Western Sahara, you might be excused for believing that the 2020 Africa Futsal Cup of Nations will be played in Morocco. After all, the tournament logo says “Morocco”, and FIFA and Wikipedia claim that the tournament will be held in “Morocco”.

But if you look a little closer you can see that the tournament is to be held in Laayoune (El Aaiun), the capital of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, where the draw for the tournament also took place.

Hosting the Africa Futsal Cup of Nations in El Aaiun is by no means the first time that Morocco uses sports events and sports stars to try and legitimize its occupation of Western Sahara.

This is so, even though the International Court of justice rejected this claim in 1975, weeks before Morocco’s colonization of Western Sahara. Neither the UN nor any nation recognizes Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara.

In Morocco’s official presentation of their candidature for the 2026 World Cup, for instance, Western Sahara was shown as a part of Morocco, a hospital in Western Sahara’s capital El Aaiun was included in a list of Moroccan facilities to be used at the World Cup, and several windfarms that Morocco have built in Western Sahara in violation of international law were claimed to be situated in Morocco.

And every year, Morocco holds a celebration of the anniversary of the so-called Green March, where 350.000 Moroccan civilians entered Spanish Sahara (today Western Sahara) in violation of the Geneva Convention.

This event includes a football match that over the years, according to the Moroccan media, has included present and former football stars such as Diego Maradona, George Weah, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Cafu, Gianluca Zambrotta, Javier Saviola, Rene Higuita, David Trezeguet, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla and Clarence Seedorf.

But there is not much to celebrate in Western Sahara for its people, however. Freedom of speech and assembly is severely limited, protests against the Moroccan colonial power are violently dispersed, and the colonial regime routinely uses torture against protesters, Amnesty International state in their annual reports.

According to reports from US organization Freedom House, Western Sahara is ranked as one of the most repressive countries in the world, with a freedom rating worse than Saudi Arabia.

As defending African Futsal Cup of Nations champions, Morocco will be playing Libya, Equatorial Guinea and South Africa in the group stages of the tournament, which is held between 28 January and 7 February.

The tournament acts as the Confederation of African Football qualifier for the 2020 Futsal World Cup. Morocco lost all three of their group stage matches at the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup.

Futsal is a variant of football, played on a hard court pitch with two teams of five players each, usually indoors.

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