Officially, it is the Mohammed-V stadium, but the supporters call it “donor”, in reference to the “honor” stage, the name given to it at the independence of the Morocco. Inaugurated in 1955 in what was still the outskirts of Casablanca – today the central and lively district of Maarif – the building with a capacity of 45,000 places stands out in an environment dominated by buildings of more recent construction.
Its imposing reinforced concrete structure, the work of French architect Achille DAngleterre, is typical of the brutalist movement. Linked to the history of the city’s two clubs, Raja and Wydad, the venue hosts at least twice a season a derby considered by the specialized press as one of the hottest in world football. For supporters, it is “a part of the identity of Casablanca and its football”.
Confirmed on June 22 by the committee in charge of Morocco’s candidacy for the organization of the 2030 Football World Cup, the location of the future “grand stadium of Casablanca” in Benslimane, about forty kilometers from the economic capital, caused misunderstanding among supporters. On social networks, the critical comments were quick: “Why did you choose a site so far from the city? », “Can we imagine Marseille building a new stadium in Aix-en-Provence? »
Above all, the 93,000-seat project has revived a recurring debate on the closure of the Mohammed-V stadium. “The idea of moving the stadium is not newexplains Abdullah Abaakil, councilor of the district of Maarif, elected to the city council under the label of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU). But if it were to be closed and handed over to property developers, which I fear once the big stadium is built, it would be incomprehensible. For the inhabitants of working-cl neighborhoods, it is an element of integration and there are few of them in Casablanca. »
Death of a supporter
The project for a new stadium has been resurfacing at regular intervals since 2008. The announcement of its location in Benslimane came as the Mohammed-V stadium underwent yet another renovation and a supporter died near it on April 29 , when she came to attend a meeting of the African Champions League between Raja and Egyptian club Al Ahly. Officially, his death was caused by discomfort following a stampede caused by a crowd of supporters without tickets. But videos and testimonies incriminate the police, who used water cannons that day. “It was a disproportionate reaction”says Abdullah Abaakil.
“This tragedy is not a surprise, we have been warning about the problems of maintaining order for yearsobserves Ghita, 35, who has been going to the stadium since he was 14 years old. Today I go there less, its management has become catastrophic. » The responsibility of Casablanca Events & Animation, the company responsible for operating and managing the stadium, is regularly pointed out. Summoned by the municipal council after the events of April 29, it defended itself by invoking the excessive number of spectators and the responsibility of the clubs, decision makers of the number of tickets put on sale.
In March 2016, clashes inside the enclosure led to the death of two supporters. The ultras were then banned from entering the stadium for two years. In 2018, the press was piqued with curiosity for the songs sung in its stands, the most famous of which, Fbladi Dalmouni (“I suffered from injustice in my country”), denounces the lack of freedom.
“A match day is a different day”, admits Othman, 37, who spent part of his childhood as a stadium neighbor. For local residents, the hours preceding a meeting follow a well-established scenario: the neighborhood is patrolled by the police, car trips are filtered, businesses close earlier. Othman, who lived in England, is nevertheless adamant: “Casablanca fans are no worse than West Ham or Millwall fans who attend their team’s games in central London. The problem is not the location, but even if it means moving, it would have been preferable to choose a location in Casablanca. At the Carrières centrale, for example, there is enough land available and this would have made it possible to revitalize the district. »
A monument to be “preserved”
No official announcement has so far come to clarify the future of the Mohammed-V stadium, owned by the city of Casablanca. The office of Nabila Rmili, president of the municipal council and member of the National Rally of Independents, the party of the current head of government, Aziz Akhannouch, ures that“there is no intention of closing it” and said wish “that it continues to host the championship matches”.
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Although each year they receive a municipal subsidy of 5 million dirhams (about 469,000 euros) each, the decision is up to the clubs. “The overwhelming majority of fans are against it, but if Raja and Wydad decided to move, they would sign the stadium’s death warrant”notes Abdullah Abaakil.
In the meantime, the Mohammed-V stadium has been selected by the Ministry of Sports to benefit from a rehabilitation program with a view to the 2025 African Cup of Nations. Nabila Rmili’s cabinet indicates that a vote on this subject will held in July during an extraordinary session of the municipal council of Casablanca. “Its rehabilitation will improve flow management and safety. The objective is to bring the stadium up to standard.he said.
For its part, the Casamémoire ociation, which works to safeguard the architectural heritage of the XXe century in Morocco, ures her: inventoried by historical monuments but not clified, the Mohammed-V stadium is, according to her, a monument “must be preserved”.