Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Future of footballers

Nine months without a league, Egypt’s players might go abroad in search of other playing fields, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

All domestic football competitions were suspended after February’s massacre when 74 Ahli fans died and hundreds were injured following deadly clashes with rivals Masri in a league game in Port Said. While many are calling for the return of domestic football and others oppose it till justice is served for those who were killed, Minister of Sports Al-Amri Farouk and the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) stand in the middle without taking decisive action one way or the other.
The new league season was firstly scheduled to start in September, then was postponed for a month to 17 October and afterwards delayed for two more weeks. Ultimately, it was postponed indefinitely.
Those who support the league resuming usually point to the ‘five million sportsmen’ who will remain jobless without football. Those against resuming the competition, mainly Ahli’s Ultras group of fans, members of the victims’ families and many political activists and movements, stress that there must not be any football until there is ‘retribution’ for those killed in the Port Said massacre. They say it should only resume after the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Cases are currently being heard in court.
The suspension of the competition has drawn attention to the two biggest issues affecting the current game: poor security arrangements in stadiums and the massive economic losses caused by the stoppage.
The security issue seemed to have been resolved. The Interior Ministry had previously said matches would be played in stadiums belonging to the Armed Forces behind closed doors but recently announced it was ready for the matches to begin with spectators. “The Ministry of Interior asked football officials last month to determine the date of commencement of sports, emphasising our ability to secure football league season,” a security source told Al-Ahram Weekly.
It’s the financial losses that remain a big headache. Players and workers in the field have been calling for the season to resume, claiming that estimated losses had reached LE1.2 billion.
 “The league’s postponement until now is a tragedy by any standard, and it will be a disaster if the season is cancelled,” Gamal Gabr, Ahli’s media centre director, told the Weekly.
“Unfortunately, Egyptian officials consider football merely a game, which is why there is reluctance in taking the resumption decision. However, it is a business and should be considered as an industry.
“Football is the chief source of income for the Egyptian clubs and has become a career for not only the players but for many other Egyptians. The halting of the football league’s season has impacted all stakeholders, starting from the EFA all the way to the clubs, advertising companies and satellite channels that benefit from the matches. The clubs are no longer capable of paying the players’ salaries, however, Ahli tries its best to compromise,” Gabr added.
Many Egyptian players are thus looking abroad to play. Mahdi Suleiman, Petrojet goalkeeper, was reportedly quoted as saying that he was likely to accept a formal offer to join the Israeli club Hapoel Tel Aviv FC during the winter break “if it is the only chance to play football.”
Suleiman said agreeing to play in the Israeli league was a “very serious risk”. Nevertheless, he reportedly said that any player’s wish to play in the Israeli league is justified by the suspension of football in Egypt, criticizing those responsible for not thinking of the future of those who work in the sports sector.” Last week, Hapoel Tel Aviv denied that they are interested in signing Suleiman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman to the Arab media said.
“The stoppage of the football league badly affects the clubs financially, but it affects the players technically, too,” Nader Shawki, a players agent, told the Weekly, adding that the current conditions do not bode well.
“Professionally, the EFA should have addressed FIFA for advice and to let them know the statutes and their future. The EFA did not contact the FIFA or the clubs.
“The current atmosphere is not reassuring. No one knows what is going to happen to the EFA or the clubs. I’m just waiting for January (the winter transfer season) and I’ll do my best for my players to play abroad. They are hurting financially and my job is to let them play and get paid,” Shawki assured.
“I’ve already received many offers for dozens of players including Ahli’s trio Hossam Ghali, Sayed Moawad and Ahmed Fathi and Ismaili’s Omar Gaber. Whatever the financial terms of the available foreign offers are, I’ll recommend the players to sign if there is no league by next month,” Shawki said, stressing that he has no offers from Israeli clubs.
 “We cannot blame the players and the clubs because without a football league this season we will lose an entire generation of players.
“Every player has the right to negotiate with other clubs to secure his football and financial future,” Gabr said.
Enppi’s coach Tarek Al-Ashri believes that regardless of the situation, things will get better when the league resumes.
“Meanwhile, though, the clubs have no budget to pay for the players who have no other source of income. Everything will worsen if officials remain unenthusiastic about resuming football,” Al-Ashri told the Weekly.
“It’s only when the decision to play is taken that the situation will improve,” Al-Ashri added, expecting the league to start in January at most.
Zamalek midfielder Ahmed Hassan has stated that the sports ministry intends to hold the Egyptian domestic league soon but in a different format because of time.
“I met Egypt’s sports minister in Borg Al-Arab Stadium during the CAF Champions League final, and he told me that the competition will be resumed soon, but that the teams will be divided into two groups because of the series of delays to the start of the competition,” Egypt’s skipper was quoted as saying by the Middle East News Agency (MENA) last week.
In addition to players who are about to depart, foreign coaches are also expected to leave. Zamalek’s Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira is unwilling to stay on amid the uncertain future of football in Egypt. His reasoning, according to news reports, is that if soccer remains suspended, Zamalek will have to wait until next year’s CAF Champions League season just to play one competitive game.
Vieira was named Zamalek manager in August following the departure of Hassan Shehata.

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