With only two days to go before the start of the national league, the Egyptian Football Association decided to postpone the competition indefinitely, Inas Mazhar
Following a board meeting on Monday, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) issued a terse statement on its official website declaring the postponement of the domestic competition. The new board, headed by newcomer Gamal Allam, announced that after reviewing the issue, they said there was no official security guarantee or approval from the Ministry of Interior either stating their approval or securing the league competition. Accordingly, the decision was taken to postpone the league indefinitely.
Board member of the EFA Ehab Leheta confirmed the decision to Al-Ahram Weekly. "We need official written documents from the Ministry of Interior, not verbal guarantees. When we checked the documents on Saturday, we discovered that there was no official approval from the ministry, so we contacted them and waited until Monday for approval to arrive but it didn't so we had no other choice," Leheta said.
Leheta did not give a date for when the league might start. "Our board meetings are continuing and once we receive the approvals, the competition will kick off."
This is the fourth time the domestic league competition has been called off, almost all the time for security reasons in the wake of last year's revolution which forced police to flee the streets of the country. The police have been slow returning. Their presence in football matches has been exceptionally weak. Several matches have seen pitch invasions but none as severe as on 1 February this year in Port Said in which 74 football fans were killed in a soccer riot in a league match between Ahli and Masri. The debacle led to the abrupt halt mid-way through the 2010-2011 season. Since then there has been no competition.
Because of the security lapse, almost any match played in Egypt since, including national games and those of the African Champions League has been played without fans.
The biggest security threat comes from the Ultras of Ahli who are furious over what they say are slow court proceedings regarding bringing to justice those responsible for the Port Said massacre. Most of those killed were Ahli supporters.
Nine months since the disaster, there has been no verdict. The Ultras accordingly decided that no league is to be played except after what they like to say is retribution.
The first decision taken by the new Minister of Sports Al-Amri Farouk since coming four months ago was the resumption of the league competition on 7 October. However, the Ultras launched a series of demonstrations and at time assaults in front of the presidential palace, EFA headquarters and Ahli club. They invaded the club twice and attacked the players, once at the Gezira premises and when the team moved its training to Nasr City, they followed and attacked them there as well. The Ultras threatened to invade all stadiums if the league competition is to be played. So, another date was set, 17 October but that too will now be missed.
The decision has thrown up a whole set of question marks. Both the interior and sports ministries announced they are ready for kick off but added it was the EFA who took the decision. Farouk told reporters following the EFA decision that he has no idea on the future of the competition. According to him, the ministry is ready and it's up to the EFA to play.
The media, clubs, teams, managers, players, advertisers, sponsors and referees are to a man certain the decision was taken out of fear of the Ultras which would lead to a collapse of the entire football business.
Last week, footballers and others working in the business peacefully demonstrated and called for saving the sport and the return of the competition. Now, they are furious about the renewed delay and some players have threatened to leave Egypt and play elsewhere.
Zamalek's Ahmed Hassan, the captain of Egypt and the world's most capped player, reacted angrily to the decision. "I'm really surprised. They are killing the sport. Who said we are against the Ultras. We have supported them and continue to but until a verdict is reached in court, football has to go on.
"Several people's income depends on football. But when we say that, they say footballers don't need money. Why not? It's our only profession. Maybe some don't need the money, like myself as some say, but others do. Some players have no other income other than football. Small and poor clubs, administrators, ball boys and the equipment men. It's a whole business. How would players or anyone working in a club ask for their salaries or royalties when they know that the clubs are in crisis and facing bankruptcy?
"We are really fed up. Every time there are new reasons which are not convincing. Let them be brave and be honest and say 'we can't secure the league, we're afraid of the Ultras and football will be cancelled.' Then, players should be released and should try to seek their future somewhere else especially abroad. Some of us have already been contacted."
Sports critic Fathi Sanad was shocked by the decision. He told the CBC TV channel that the decision is not in favour of the sport. "I am really surprised and wonder if this competition will ever be resumed. It's all between the three parties -- the EFA, the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Interior and they are all blaming each other for the decision, and have thrown the ball in the court of the EFA who in turn blames both parties. But none has the guts to go out and say they are afraid of the Ultras.
"I really wonder. The three parties are dealing or negotiating with each other but none has approached the most important party, the Ultras. Why don't they meet them and talk to them and reach a compromise?"
Ahli's head coach Hossam El-Badri said that the decision was expected while the club football administrative manager Sayed Abdel-Hafiz said that the club was, for the time being, busy trying to win the African Champions League, in which it has reached the semi-finals. Ahli is the only football club training and officially playing these days. The suspension of the league could be a relief for them in order not to exhaust the players.
Mamdouh Abbas, the chairman of powerhouse Zamalek, said the decision was both shocking and disappointing. "I wonder -- if both ministries, sports and interior, have no concerns -- then why did the EFA decide to postpone the competition?" Abbas believes that if the problem lies in the Ultras who don't want their team to play, then he suggests that the league goes on without Ahli and Masri. Following the Port Said tragedy, Masri stated its intention to withdraw from the season.
"All clubs are in debt now and if the competition is cancelled then the government must pay for the losses," Abbas said.
The EFA is supposed to open new discussions with security officials. The EFA's chairman and vice chairman, Allam and Hassan Farid, are to meet the minister of interior to find a quick solution and set a date for the resumption of the league. Farid has announced that he is willing to negotiate with the Ultras and that he will open contacts with them soon.