‘Misunderstanding’: Algerian football club plays down pro-Saddam chants amid row with Iraq
The row began when fans of Algerian club USM Alger chanted slogans praising former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during their match against the Iraqi Air Force team (Al-Quwa al-Jawiya) in theArab Club Champions Cup on Sunday.
USMA fans were heard to shout "Allahu Akbar, Saddam Hussein!" as well as anti-Shia slogans, according to reports.
That led to the enraged Iraqi team abandoning the match in protest in the 72nd minute, when they were 2-0 down and losing 3-0 on aggregate in the tie.
The incident escalated into a diplomatic row, with Iraq summoning the Algerian ambassador in Baghdad on Monday.
In a statement, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the fans’ chants “deeply offended the brotherly relationship between the two countries,” and condemned any actions that would “provoke our dear people by praising Saddam's hideous dictator regime.”
The Iraqi Football Federation called on the Arab Football Federation to take action, threatening to withdraw its teams from the Arab Club Champions Cup in protest.
On Tuesday, officials from the Algerian club attempted to play down the row, saying it was “a misunderstanding.”
"The songs by our supporters were not mean or insulting," USMA president Hakim Serrar said, according to the BBC.
"It was just a way for them to honor the Iraqi team through its former president. The match took place in very good conditions. It was all a misunderstanding.”
He added, however, that he expects the club to face sanctions over the incident: "For sure there will be fines for political songs. FIFA bans such singing, not just the UAFA (Arab Football Association). The club will accept whatever financial penalties it is given."
While the UAFA is yet to comment officially, reports suggest that the union plans to sanction both teams over the incident, with the Iraqi club potentially facing a bigger fine for calling an early end to the game.
The Iraqi team did receive backing from USMA goalkeeper Mohamed Lamine Zemmamouche, who called on his team’s fans to stop singing political chants.
"I apologized as club captain. What happened was not good for us. It was negative," the 33-year-old said, according to the BBC.
"I hope that our supporters will stop singing political slogans and support the team by singing songs about USMA."
It’s not the first football-related incident the Algerian government has been caught up in.
In December, Algeria was forced to apologize to Saudi Arabia after supporters of lower-league club Ain Melilla unveiled a banner featuring the faces of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and US President Donald Trump merged together.
The banner was accompanied by a caption reading "Two faces of the same coin," and apparently came in response to the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.