Morocco’s national airline, Royal Air Maroc (RAM), cancelled several flights to Doha on Wednesday, leaving hundreds of Moroccan fans hoping to attend their country’s first-ever World Cup semifinal stranded.
Morocco will play France, their former colonial ruler, in a historic match on Thursday night: The Atlas Lions are the first Arab and African team to reach a World Cup semifinal.
Royal Air Maroc (RAM) issued a statement via email explaining the reason for their decision. “Following the latest restrictions imposed by the Qatari authorities, Royal Air Maroc regrets to inform customers of the cancellation of their flights operated by Qatar Airways,” the airline said.
Royal Air Maroc had previously said it would provide fans with 30 additional flights in advance of their semifinal clash, but on Tuesday, a source at RAM said that only 14 flights had been scheduled.
The cancellation of Wednesday’s flights leaves fans who had already booked match tickets or hotel rooms unable to travel. RAM said it would reimburse air tickets and apologized to its customers.
Morocco have enjoyed significant support at the Qatar World Cup, both from the thousands of fans that have already travelled to the country, as well as from fans of other Arab nations and neutrals — especially from Asia and Africa.
The Atlas Lions have been the giant killers of the tournament so far, beating Belgium in the group stage and knocking out Spain and Portugal in the knockout stages.
After RAM promised more flights ahead of the semifinal, hundreds of fans in Morrocco had hoped to travel to Doha and obtain tickets on arrival.
Youssef Chippo, a former Moroccan national team player, working in Qatar as a commentator for BeIn sports channel, said the flight cancellations were linked to the arrival of many fans in Doha without match tickets.
There have been reports of minor scuffles between Moroccan fans and security officers on duty for the World Cup as ticketless supporters have tried to make their way to the matches.
At Doha airport, fans arriving overnight from Casablanca said they expected to receive tickets on arrival based on what they had read on social media and in the Moroccan press. “Ninety-five percent of people on the plane didn’t have a ticket,” said Mohammed, a Moroccan fan outside Al Janoub Stadium where the semifinal will be held.
A message posted by Hamad International Airport on Wednesday morning urged supporters “not to go to the two airports [of Doha] until they have obtained tickets for the upcoming matches”.
“We remind supporters that Hamad International Airport in Doha is not the official site for obtaining tickets for World Cup matches,” the message added.