Al-Ahram Weekly Online   24 February - 2 March 2011
Issue No. 1036
Sports
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Football returns, slightly

The army has agreed to allow the first football match to be played in Egypt after the uprising. Inas Mazhar reports

Egypt's Armed Forces have agreed to allow football fans to attend Zamalek's game versus Kenya's Stars next Sunday in the Military Stadium. This is the second leg match of the round of 64 in the African Champions League. The game, which was scheduled to be held two weeks ago in Cairo, was initially moved to Libya because of the instability and lack of security in Cairo during the Egyptian uprising. But in Libya, demonstrations broke out there as well, making it unsafe to host the game.

The Egyptian military then agreed to have the game played at the Military Academy Stadium in the Heliopolis area in Cairo. The 25,000-seat stadium is one of the best in Egypt and certainly secure enough, being within the premises of the Military Academy.

For the past week there had been ongoing talks between Zamalek officials and the military on whether spectators would be allowed to attend or whether the game would be held without fans.

Zamalek have announced the possibility of dedicating part of the revenues of the match to the families of the victims of the revolt.

Zamalek officials have denied reports that claimed that the Kenyan team would withdraw from the second leg for fear of lack of security in Egypt. There were also reports that Stars believed there was no need to take the risk since they lost the first leg 4-0 at home, making for a hopeless return leg.

But Zamalek club manager Alaa Mekled has confirmed that Stars will play the game in Cairo and that they were awaiting a message from the Kenyan club on the date and time of their arrival.

Zamalek also contacted the Egyptian Football Association to use FIFA's new Players' Transfer System, or TMS, to register Ahmed Hossam Mido who recently signed up for the club from Middlesbrough. Zamalek hopes they can complete the transfer so that Mido may receive his international card, then can join Zamalek for the rest of the African Champions League matches.

While Zamalek was lucky to receive the army's approval to host their game, the Egyptian Football Association is still waiting for the approval of the army to resume the federation's major football activity, the national league. EFA President Samir Zaher met earlier this week with the presidents of the 16 clubs who play in the Egyptian Premier League. The first round concluded at the end of December and the second round was scheduled to kick-off in January.

The clubs' presidents unanimously agreed it was time to resume the league, believing the suspension had had a negative impact on the players who have not trained for almost three weeks. Though most of the teams resumed training last week, fitness coaches are having a hard time helping regain the players' fitness.

Clubs and the EFA will also definitely lose part of their contracts with sponsors. The clubs thus want to play even if it means playing without fans.

Some teams have started to play friendly games against each other without fans to maintain their fitness. Ahli are to play Tersana and Wadi Degla in two such games.

The EFA, meantime, has contacted the CAF to seek postponement of the 2012 Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa. The game is scheduled for 25 March in Johannesburg but the EFA is finding it difficult to prepare for such an important match which may determine whether the seven-time African champions will reach the final stages of the competition.

The Pharaohs drew with Sierra Leone 1-1 and lost to Niger 1-0 for just one point. The reigning champions, who have won the last three editions of the ACN, are now bottom of the group. A win against South Africa means that they will remain in the hunt for qualifications before the second round matches take place in June.

The suspension of the league has affected the Egyptian national team's preparations. The plan was that the players would be playing in the national competition, then would enter an intensive training camp to warm-up for the decisive match. Egypt's preparations included a friendly against the US on 9 February which was cancelled.

There were reports of sending the national team to train in Oman, but it apparently did not work out as the region in its entirety is unstable at the moment.

Shehata, the technical staff and the players are in foul mood after the public turned against them for not showing up in Tahrir Square and not supporting the revolt. Zaher is urging the public to leave the team prepare peacefully for the South African showdown. Zaher said that he was confident CAF would reconsider the dates of the qualifications, citing similar unrest in North Africa -- in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

Meanwhile, Ahli's former head coach Hossam El-Badri, now head coach of Sudan's Merrikh, managed together with his assistant Emad El-Nahhas and goalkeeper Essam El-Hadari to reach Tripoli, then fly back to Khartoum. The three were attending a 10-day training camp in Benghazi. According to El-Hadari's official website, they were detained in Benghazi but managed to reach the city of Sert after an 11- hour road trip by bus. From there they flew to Tripoli and took a flight back to Khartoum.

In other developments, it appears there will no longer be the National Sports Council or the National Youth Council. The Ministry of Youth will return, even though political analyst Amr Hamzawi refused the government portfolio to become its minister.

In the last three decades, sports was run by what was known then as the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports. In 1999, the Ministry for Youth was formed which also handled sports in Egypt. In 2006, the government split both sports and youth into two councils affiliated to the National Specialised Councils.

After youths launched the 25 January revolt this year, the government realised that a ministry of youth is essential.

The people also want a youthful minister. Mansour Hassan was only 34 when he was appointed minister of youth in the 1970s.

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