Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Possible postponement

With the current upheaval across Egypt, the start of the national football league is uncertain, Inas Mazhar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

It was thought that last week’s death sentence passed against 21 people for their involvement in the killing of 74 football fans in a soccer riot last year would have buried the ghosts of that tragedy. Such a tough sentence might also have allowed the football season to restart.
The massacre on 1 February 2012 cancelled the season and since then three attempts to restart the game have proved unsuccessful with Ahli fans who number in the millions, and the majority of who died in the violence, threatening time and again to prevent the league from restarting until they are vindicated in court.
And indeed last week, on 26 January, the court found 21 people guilty for their part in the Port Said massacre and sentenced them to be executed. The final verdict encompassing all the defendants, including police officers, is expected to be announced on 9 March. And though there are appeals, the families of the victims and the Ahli fans, known as Ultras, felt that they have avenged the deaths of their sons and with that the domestic competition could go ahead on 2 February. The football business was supposed to flourish again.
But there was another party who vented extreme anger, the people of Port Said, who revolted against the verdict, shouting they were not responsible for the massacre. No sooner was the verdict read out on TV live on Saturday morning than chaos broke out in Port Said. By the end of that day close to 40 people were killed, most by police while trying to free the prisoners.
At the same time, demonstrations and clashes erupted all over the country on the second annieversary of the 25 January Revolution.
For the past week, the police, who is supposed to secure the football matches of the league even without the fans, have been having hard times securing and fighting back in the streets of Egypt and God only knows when this might come to an end. They are extremely exhausted.
Though sports and football officials have for the most part not officially come out with any statement, it appears likely that once again, the start of the season will be postponed.
Football clubs and players have been training hard and looking forward excitedly to the resumption of the competition but are now drawing up Plan B.
Zamalek club is preparing for some friendly matches to be played in case the league is suspended or delayed again. The team needs to play matches in preparation for its African away first leg opening qualifier against Chad’s Champion on 16 February in the first round of the African Champions League. According to Ossama Nabih, the club’s assistant coach the team will play two or three friendly matches in case the league is not played on the days of 2, 5 or 6 and a third either 8 or 9 February.
Former board member of the Egyptian Football Association Magdi Abdel-Ghani said that it was difficult to resume the national competition amidst these circumstances taking place all over the country and especially after three cities were placed under curfew. He called on officials of the EFA and football clubs to take a final decision about this competition and recommends that they cancel it this season as well. Abdel-Ghani explained that the issue is not only the Port Said disaster but political and security crisis.
Abdel-Ghani said he hoped that the EFA would inform the players soon so they can determine their future. In his capacity as head of the Egyptian Professional Footballers’ Association, Abdel-Ghani said that he would contact FIFA and ask if it would give Egyptian players the opportunity to move to clubs abroad during the winter transfer period.
The Egyptian national team was depending on the league competition to watch the players more closely, but now with this uncertainty, the team management is awaiting a final decision in order to decide the time of a training camp in Spain. The Pharaohs are to take on Chile in a friendly match on 6 February in Spain during a training camp they intend to attend.
Goalkeeper coach Zaki Abdel-Fatah thinks that it is better to suspend or cancel the league if it is dangerous for the players. It had been decided beforehand that even if the matches were to return, they would be played behind closed doors.
Sports Minister Al-Amri Farouk shares the fears and doubts towards the future of the competition. He said he believed it was very hard to resume the competition “when people are fighting and dying in the streets.”

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