Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 January 2012
Issue No. 1079
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Challenges of the chairman

The new head of the National Sports Council speaks to Inas Mazhar about the road ahead

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It's been less than a month since the new chairman of the National Sports Council Emad El-Banani took office but already much is expected from him. It took months for the cabinet to select a chairman for the top sports body in the country after long-night negotiations were held over whether to turn the nation's supreme sports council into a sports ministry or keep it as is. Selecting a minister or a chairman for the job also took months and several big names were introduced though in the end none were selected.

For those outside the playing field El-Banani is a relative unknown. But those in the know, know that El-Banani has served for three decades in the same place; only the names have changed: the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Youth, and finally the National Sports Council. El-Banani's last post was head of the sports authorities department. He is, thus, an insider who is aware of how sport is run in the country.

At a reception given by the Egyptian Sports Culture Association, El-Banani affirmed to Al-Ahram Weekly he would not be making any amendments to the controversial eight-year law drafted by the former NSC chairman Hassan Sakr.

Sakr had promulgated a law limiting the duration of any board director of a club or a federation to eight years. Before the law came into effect, a member could remain board president or member of a club or federation or another sports body for what seemed an eternity -- as long as he ran in elections every four years. After two consecutive terms totalling eight years the official had to step down, but then could run for re-election for a third term.

According to Sakr's new amended law, after the eight years, no one is allowed to run for office. The law has since caused much controversy especially since the law is not applied internationally to federations or clubs.

According to top Egyptian sports officials, the law ignores not only the experience of those who have been elected for eight years but prevents the club and federation members from their right to elect whoever they believe is capable of running their sports body. Many believe the decision was meant for Sakr to put an end to the era of Egyptian sports officials who have been running their federations for years, serving no less than four or five terms, including Hassan Mustafa in handball, volleyballer Amr Elwani and National Olympic Chairman Mounir Sabet. It is no secret that Sakr had major differences with these people.

Ahli club board member Khaled Mortagi and other members of the club have been on the opposition side of the fence. "We were not appointed by Mr Sakr but came to the board via elections and have worked very hard serving the club. This goes for anyone who has stayed in their posts a long time. There are many people who are against the decision and join us in believing that you are denying them their rights in choosing their board members. We'll fight for it," Mortagi told the Weekly.

Accordingly, it was only normal El-Banani would be asked about the future of the law and whether he would annul it.

"This is a law and I have no right to scrub it or put it aside. It has to be scrapped by court order.

"Since I've come to office this has been the biggest question asked me. Whether I agree or disagree with the law doesn't matter. It is still effective until a court order says otherwise. Those who believe they are hurt by the law have the right to file lawsuits. If the court rules in their favour, then the NSC as the supreme sports body running sports in the country will respect the law. But until that happens, the law is still in effect."

On another subject, the new chairman revealed that the Ultras and "pitch hooliganism" which came into play last year with several incidents were not under his jurisdiction. "We have nothing to do with this. This is the job of the clubs and their fans and only the Egyptian Football Association can intervene, being the organiser of all football competitions and matches. I believe it is the role of the clubs to meet with their fans' leaders -- they know them very well -- and to try to reach a compromise in order to solve the problem."

El-Banani said his biggest challenge in the coming months was preparing a strong delegation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "This is our main task and the prime minister has said this is a priority. I'm currently meeting with the federations who have qualified to take part in the Games and will provide them with all the necessary budgets in order to compete and win.

"In the last meeting with both the minister of finance and the minister of planning and international cooperation, we were told that the prime minister has given instructions to prepare for the Games and that's what we are doing."

El-Banani elaborated a point disputed for years. "Whether a ministry or council, they will always remain administrative bodies, not technical. I'm saying this to make it clear that the council will never interfere in any technical matters regarding the training or preparation or even selection of teams. That is the responsibility of the National Olympic Committee as is the case in all countries. Our role is limited to administration, to approve their preparations and budget and to be accountable for the results. In that case the NOC should answer to us.

"I know that the NOC has been sidelined in the past and was prevented from running the federations which is its main duty but that was wrong and now they have to work hard because all technical matters are their responsibility."

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