South Africa boycotts regional tournament over Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara

The South African Football Association (SAFA) on Wednesday announced its decision to withdraw from the 2020 Africa Futsal Cup of Nation due to the tournament being hosted in the city of Laayoune in the disputed Western Sahara region.

SAFA in their decision said this was in line with the South African government and African Union (AU) resolution, hence, displaying their solidarity with the Sahrawi to fulfil its agreement with the AU.

It has been more than 40 years since Morocco claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara, posing a conflict that seems no closer to resolution. In a publication by the Western Sahara Report Watch (WSRW), it stated that Morocco is illegally and brutally occupying the neighbouring country.

While the Sahrawis, the people of Western Sahara, legitimately struggle for liberty, no state in the world has recognized Morocco’s claim to the territory. Western Sahara is treated by the United Nations (UN) as the last remaining colonial issue in Africa.

Meanwhile, the UN has called for independence and decolonization of the former Spanish colony even since the 1960s, when it was still called ‘Spanish Sahara’ and under Spanish rule.

“Tens of thousands of Saharawi people still live under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. Although Saharawis have ruled out terrorism as a political tactic, their lives and activities constricted by a harsh security state.”

“While the Saharawis are subjected to human rights violations in their home country by a foreign colonial power, the international community looks the other way,” said the report by WSRW.

Many governments speak with two tongues on the issue of Western Sahara. On the one hand, they claim to support the UN’s efforts to find a solution to the conflict. But on the other, they enter into business deals with Morocco inside the occupied territory

This issue is what prompted South Africa’s decision to pull out from the tournament to increase pressure on Morocco to grant Western Sahara its independence.

Although SAFA runs the risk of being fined about R1.2 million for the withdrawal, the football body’s acting CEO, Gay Monika said they will ask for the fine not to be imposed on them. Considering the likely repercussion of their decision, Gay said it was a difficult decision that the body had to take.

Barry Hendricks, President of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) said that the organization supports SAFA’s decision to withdraw from the tournament.

“South Africa has no issue in playing in Morocco but in line with the South African government and AU resolutions, will not play in Western Sahara,” SAFA President Danny Jordaan said.

By Ahmed Iyanda. (SPS)