Football hooliganism reared its head again this last month after a long hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With fans returning to the stadia in their droves as venues re-open following the lifting of restrictions, it was perhaps little surprise that rioting broke out again.
Morocco has a long tradition of football violence as well as of its share of so-called Ultras whose reputation goes beyond the Kingdom’s borders. Two top Casablanca clubs — Wydad AC and Raja Club Athletic — are well known for their Ultras who frequently engage in fights with one another.
Although Ultras are widely recognised as a way for marginalised and disenfranchised youths to express their grievances against the state and to let off steam, these super fans have repeatedly engaged in clashes and violence both on and off the pitch. In 2016, the authorities disbanded groups of Ultras and banned their slogans and banners from the terraces. This was following the deaths of two fans and the injury of 49 others in a match between Raja and Chabab Rif Al Hoceima at what was dubbed ‘Black Saturday.’
However, Ultras were permitted to return to football grounds in March 2018.
Throne Cup match turns violent
On 13 March, violence erupted at the end of a Throne Cup tournament match in Rabat’s Moulay Abdullah Stadium between the armed forces’ locally based Association sportive des Forces armées royales (ASFAR) and the Maghreb Association Sportive de Fès (MAS Fès). The latter won the match by 2:0 thereby dumping ASFAR out of the cup and prompting angry fans to storm the pitch in order to face down their rivals. A riot ensued as fans threw stones, smashed up seating and began attacking each other. The violence continued outside of the stadium, with vehicles set alight and damaged, and street hawkers’ stalls trashed.
According to officials, more than 100 police officers were injured in the fracas, while the stadium, which is one of the best in the country, suffered serious damage. The police arrested 160 fans, including 90 minors who make up a significant proportion of those involved in football violence. They were charged with: possession of weapons; public drunkenness; throwing stones; causing material losses to property; and deliberately setting fire to vehicles.
As well as charging those they had arrested, the authorities issued a series of punishments against both teams. ASFAR fans have been banned from all home and away matches until the end of the season, and the club has been ordered to pay for the damage. Meanwhile MAS Fès fans have been barred from the next two games and have also been ordered to pay for damage incurred.
Violence in Agadir
Despite the large number of arrests a few days later violence erupted at another match in Agadir. The Throne Cup match was between Hassania Union Sport d’Agadir (HUSA) and the Rabat’s Fath Union Sport (FUS). HUSA’s 3:1 victory at Agadir’s Grand Stadium prompting the outbreak of violence which resulted in 80 people, including 56 minors, being arrested and seven policemen being injured in the unrest.
These renewed bouts of violence have increased calls for the law to be applied more vigorously and has also raised questions about the state’s approach to dealing with the problem. Some commentators have complained that there is insufficient monitoring when fans enter the stadia and that the Ultras are bringing knives, stones and other objects into the venues without any problem.
The opposition Parti de la justice et du développement (PJD) has been particularly vocal on this front and this month called for a dialogue in order for the issue because it believes that the law is insufficient to deal with the challenge.
However, given that football matches have become key outlets for Morocco’s youth to express themselves, the problem is unlikely to go away or to be contained unless there is a major re-thinking of how the Kingdom deals with fans and security at matches.This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.
The March 2022 issues of Morocco Focus also includes the following:
- Reset for Spanish-Moroccan bilateral relations
- A month of protests
- Aziz Akhannouch re-elected as RNI head
- Football riots prompt calls for tougher action
- Another terrorist cell is broken up
Energy & Economy
- World Bank president visits Morocco
- Bank Al-Maghrib predicts low growth for 2022
- Chariot is awarded another offshore license