Morocco strictly outlaws the flying of the Sahrawi flag that represents the Polisario Front's self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is partially controlling the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
So, one can only imagine the controversy caused by the appearance of the said flag on the ticketing system for the 2019 African Cup of Nations (CAN 2019) and in a music video promoting the competition. Even more problematic is the fact that Egypt is hosting CAN 2019.
The Egyptian Football Association has since apologized for the mishap and emphasized its "full respect" for Morocco's sovereignty.
While SADR is not among the squads qualified for the continental footballing event, nor is it a member of the the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the Sahrawi flag appeared on the ticketing platform charged with selling CAN 2019 tickets, tzkarati.com, back in May.
In response, the Moroccan Royal Football Federation reached out to the organizing committee and to CAF, demanding clarification of the "provocative move," according to Morocco World News. The organizing committee removed the flag soon after, describing the incident as an "administrative accident."
This week, the flag appeared in a music video widely hailed as the official video for the competition. In the video (minute 4:17) entitled "All Together," a map of the African continent features the Sahrawi flag marking the location of Western Sahara.
On Thursday, the organizing committee in Egypt issued a statement apologizing for the "mistake of the appearance of an unrecognized flag" and asserting the incident was unintentional. According to the statement, the "All Together" music video was released without the approval of the committee.
"The organizing committee of the competition reaffirms its full respect for the brotherly kingdom of Morocco as well as its national sovereignty and national symbols. The committee trusts the incident will not affect the steady relationship between sports federations in both countries," the statement reads.
Back in April, Egypt invited a Polisario delegation to an African Union (AU) conference, claiming it was an AU requirement. "I can assure you that our position on Western Sahara is clear [...] Egypt has not and will never recognize what is called Polisario," the Egyptian ambassador in Rabat, Achraf Ibrahim, said at the time, according to Morocco World News.
Controversy aside, here are some details on CAN 2019
From June 21 to July 19, 24 African teams will compete for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations title. Among those teams are Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and of course, Egypt.
Egypt, the most successful nation in the tournament's history, is hosting the competition for the first time in 13 years. While Cameroon was initially named as host, it was later stripped of the duty due to delays in preparations.
The games will be held in the following stadiums: Cairo, Al-Salam, Alexandria, Ismailia, Suez, and Port Said. Fans eagerly anticipate the performance of Egyptian star and Liverpool FC forward Mohamed Salah on his home stage.