Western Sahara

Beckham will not be celebrating occupation

Reports that UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and former famous footballer, David Beckham, would be attending a celebration of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara is fake news, according to UNICEF
02. november 2019

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Tuesday, Moroccan World News reported that former English international David Beckham would be attending a celebration of the 44th anniversary of the so-called Green March, where 350.000 Moroccan civilians entered Spanish Sahara (now Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara).

“David Beckham, one of the world’s top football stars, is set to attend the gala in honor of the 44th anniversary of the Green March in Laayoune in Morocco’s southern provinces,” Moroccan World News said in the article.

“Beckham will participate in the gala game along with a number of Moroccan and international football stars, such as the Argentine legend Diego Maradona and the recently retired Brazilian star Ronaldinho,” the article continued.

‘False news’ says UNICEF
Apart from being a former famous footballer David Beckham is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who campaigns to protect children against violence and missed education - amongst other things through the David Beckham UNICEF Fund.

And UNICEF UK was quick to state that the article by Moroccan World News was in fact fake news,

“David is not & never has been planning to take part in the events you refer to in Morocco this month. We are not sure exactly where this rumour began, but can confirm it is false news”, UNICEF UK said in a tweet.

Apart from the fact that Laayoune, or El Aaiun as the Saharawis call it, is not part of Morocco, this is reassuring.

UNICEF UK also conformed this in an similar worded e-mail, when asked if Beckham would be playing in a match celebrating the Green March in Laayoune:

"David Beckham has been a UNICEF UK Ambassador for over 10 years and is incredibly passionate about the work of UNICEF with some of the most vulnerable children across the globe. David is not and never has been planning to take part in the event you refer to. We are not sure exactly where this rumour began, but can confirm it is false news."

UNICEF work in Algeria, together with the UN World Food Programme, across the border from Western Sahara. Here UNICEF bring “support to children and women affected by the proacted refugee crisis in the Sahrawi refugees camps in Tindouf, located in the extreme west of Algeria.”

In the camps, well over 100.000 refugees live as exiles from the Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara in 1975 – many have done so since 1975.

“Despite over 30 years of uninterrupted assistance, 30 percent of Sahrawi refugees are food insecure and 58 percent are at risk of food insecurity. Although recent assessments show improvements in malnutrition among children aged 5 or less, every 5th child in the camps is stunted and global acute malnutrition affects 5 percent of children,” according to the World Food Programme.

Football stars support occupation
Part of the annual Moroccan celebration of the Green March is a football match at the El Sheikh Stadium in Ghazghef, Laayoune. And while Beckham will apparently not be taking part in this match, many of his famous ex-colleagues will do and have done in the past.

Last year Ronaldinho, who was named World Player of the Year three times, was joined by Rivaldo and Cafu from the Brasilian World Cup winning side of 2002 amongst other former star players in taking part in a match to support the Green March, according to goal.com.

Several other former world stars played in the match, according to Huffington Post.

These included Italian 2006 World Champion Gianluca Zambrotta, former Argentinian international Javier Saviola, former Colombian internationals Rene Higuita and Carlos Valderrama, former French international David Trezeguet, former Senegalese internationals El Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga, Tunesian Zoubeir Beya, Egyptian Mido, Ghanean Abedi Pele, Roger Milla from Cameroon, and former Dutch international, Clarence Seedorf.

Previously, other former stars including Diego Maradona and George Weah have also participated in similar matches in Western Sahara, according to Moroccan World News. The Moroccan cup final has also been played at Stade Sheikh Mohamed Laghdaf in El Aaiun.

Not much to celebrate
Morocco often uses (former) sports stars and sports events to promote its claims to Western Sahara, even though the International Court of justice rejected this claim in 1975, weeks before the Green March and Morocco’s colonization of Western Sahara. Neither the UN nor any nation recognizes Morocco’s claims to Western Sahara.

In Morocco’s official presentation of their candidature for the 2026 World Cup, Western Sahara was shown as a part of Morocco, a hospital in Western Sahara’s capital El Aaiun was included in a list of Moroccan facilities to be used at the World Cup, and several windfarms that Morocco have built in Western Sahara in violation of international law were claimed to be situated in Morocco.

Former footballers Lothar Matthaus and Roberto Carlos, as well as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, supported Morocco’s bid for the 2026 World Cup.

There is not much to celebrate in Western Sahara for its people, however. Freedom of speech and assembly is severely limited, protests against the Moroccan colonial power are violently dispersed, and the colonial regime routinely uses torture against protesters, Amnesty International state in their annual reports.

According to reports from US organization Freedom House, Western Sahara is ranked as one of the most repressive countries in the world, with a freedom rating worse than Saudi Arabia.

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