African football’s governing body, the Confederation of African Football (Caf), has launched an investigation into political remarks made by Nelson Mandela’s grandson during the opening ceremony of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Algeria.
In a statement, Caf said it will “assess whether there was compliance” with rules laid out by both Caf and the world governing body Fifa.
The Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) sent Caf a protest after the comments made at the CHAN opening ceremony on Friday, 13 January, where Zwelivelile Mandela was a guest of the local organizing committee.
Both the ceremony and the tournament’s opening match, in which Algeria beat Libya 1-0, were held at the newly-built Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers.
In part of his speech, Mr. Mandela said, “The last colony of Africa, Western Sahara. Let us fight to free Western Sahara from oppression.”
In the protest letter seen by the BBC, the FMRF claims the statement on Western Sahara had no connection with the tournament or football in general and was targeted exclusively at the Kingdom of Morocco.
Western Sahara is a sparsely populated area situated on the northwest coast of Africa. A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Since then, it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people, with Algeria backing the Saharawi’s claim for independence.
Relations between Morocco and Algeria became so strained that the two countries cut diplomatic ties in August 2021 – and the fractious nature of that relationship has now spilled over into the CHAN with Morocco’s decision not to defend their title coming after the host nation refused to allow the Atlas Lions to fly directly from Rabat to their base in Constantine on a Royal Air Maroc plane.
As well as his comments on Western Sahara, Mr. Mandela led the crowd of 40,000 people in chants of “free Palestine”.
“These political statements are not the statements of Caf and do not reflect the views or opinions of Caf as a politically neutral organization,” said African football’s governing body as it began its investigation.