Friday,23 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Friday,23 February, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Loss of appetite

The football league finally returns but the public does not appear interested, reports Ahmed Hamdi

Al-Ahram Weekly

A year after being cancelled following the Port Said massacre that killed 74 soccer fans, the Egyptian football league finally kicked off this week but to empty stadiums. All matches are to be played in void military stadiums which are considered safe and secure and cannot be stormed.
The new season started on Saturday with victories for the top powerhouses Ahli and Zamalek. Defending champion Ahli beat Ghazl Al-Mehalla 1-0 while Zamalek defeated Ittihad of Alexandria 2-0. Both matches were held at the Military Stadium and the Air Defence Stadium in New Cairo. The games, held behind closed doors as a security precaution, went smoothly and incident-free.
Three matches were held on Sunday. Dakhlia beat the Arab Contractors 1-0, Ismaili edged Talae’e Al-Geish 1-0 while Semouha and Telephones Beni Soueif played to a scoreless draw.
The 18 participating teams are this year divided into two groups of nine teams each.Ahli leads Group A along with Enppi, Makasa, Haras Al-Hedoud, Al-Gouna, Wadi Degla, Semouha, Ghazl Al-Mehalla and Telephones Beni Soueif.Group B sees Zamalek on top of the group along with Ismaili, the Police Federation, Talae’e Al-Geish, Petrojet, Military Production, Ittihad of Alexandria, the Arab Contractors and Al-Dakhlia.
According to the new round robin format, teams from each group play each other just once. The top two teams from each group will then qualify for the semi-final. The first of Group A will meet the second in Group B whereas the winner of Group B will meet the second of Group A. The winners will then play for the league trophy while the losers will play for the third and fourth place. The last two teams will be relegated to the second division.The league is not featuring the Port Said club Masri which withdrew despite winning its case in the Court of Arbitration of Sport. The court’s verdict had overruled the punishment given by the Egyptian Football Association to suspend Masri for two years. The penalty was administered in the wake of last year’s 1 February football riot in Port Said.
There still are security concerns due to the unsettled political situation in the country and the deadly clashes that break out seemingly every day. Thus, the banning of fans from attending the soccer matches has not resulted in much of an argument from spectators.
But has it been easy for fans to turn away from live coverage of the political clashes around the country and instead watch a local soccer match? That question was posed by this reporter to a group of men sitting on a small café in Heliopolis, just metres away from where violent clashes had erupted near the presidential palace.
“Watch the Egyptian league? Are you kidding me?” Tarek Ibrahim asked in horror. “Our country is ruined and you’re asking me about the Egyptian league? Of course, I don’t care about it.”
Taking a calmer approach to expressing his opinion, Mohamed Fathi told Al-Ahram Weekly that the timing of restarting the league is totally unsuitable. “People are dying everywhere around the country and it’s our least priority to watch Ahli play against Ghazl Mehalla,” Fathi said. The third man on the table had no comment on the subject though he gave a sarcastic smile.
Feeling it might have been in the wrong place to ask the question, the Weekly moved to another café in Maadi. The quieter area was far from the clashes and so people there might have another opinion, one more in favour of the league resuming. “What Ahli and what Zamalek? The country is on fire,” Mohamed Shoukri, a man in his mid-thirties, said. It seemed Shoukri was taking the same road as of those of Heliopolis, but his friend Mohamed Ali interrupted. “Why not watch the league? It could be a good thing to escape the political tension.”
As the argument heated up between the two friends, the Weekly moved to a group of young men. The 17-year-old Ahmed Zaher did not see a problem in watching the matches of the local league despite the situation in the country. “A match could be a good two-hour break from study and from political news,” he said. “But it is not really as exciting as it was,” he added.
According to Zaher’s friend Mohamed Atef, the lack of excitement comes from the new format of two groups instead of the usual one. Ahli is in one group and Zamalek in another. “This season, Ahli and Zamalek results do not effect each other for they might not meet on the pitch if one of them does not qualify from their group,” Atef said. “The rivalry between Ahli and Zamalek has always been the reason we watch the league but this season there is definitely a lack of competition,” Atef added.
Despite the different opinions, the local league matches were being watched on TV in many cafés and restaurants. However, only a few patrons were really paying attention to what was happening on the green grass. During the matches, many would argue politics indicating a definite loss of interest in keeping up with Egyptian soccer during these unsettled times.

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