Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Kings of clubs

This weekend will witness fierce competition in elections in six of the oldest, biggest and most elite sports clubs in Egypt, reports Inas Mazhar

 

Elections

Due to their immense popularity, especially in football, the elections for president and board members in Ahly and Zamalek clubs have garnered the lion’s share of the public’s attention. The remaining clubs -- Gezira, Shooting, Shams and Heliopolis – depend more on their popularity within social circles.

The elections for new boards of directors start in Zamalek which will be held over two days, Thursday and Friday 23 and 24 November.

Friday and Saturday will be the most crowded as four clubs will hold their elections. Two are in the Heliopolis suburb in East Cairo, Shams and Heliopolis, and the other two in the west side of the city, Gezira and Shooting.

Voters will start the process of electing their candidates in the morning. The four clubs are regarded as elitist; sports is secondary. It’s the fame and power of their members which takes priority, including top officials of state, public figures of renown and the crème de la crème of families.

It is likely to be a hectic day for thousands of voters who are members in more than one club which means they will have a busy day going from east to west of the city to cast their votes.

The elections will conclude on Thursday 30 November, according to the new sports law, with voting in Ahly and Gezira. It seems that Ahly, selected by the African football federation as African Club of the Century, decided to culminate the process after all the other elections, and on a national holiday, the prophet’s birthday, to capture the public’s full attention, which it already has, especially since its legendary footballer and former vice president Mahmoud Al-Khatib is running for the president’s seat.

The past weeks have seen the elections heating up at the clubs and in the media. Voting has been almost the talk of the town for the past month along with the campaigning and the millions spent which in some cases has surpassed even the parliamentary elections. Most of those running are either former state officials or tycoon businessmen or both.

The streets of busy Cairo have been flooded with huge banners and billboards of the candidates, just like political elections. It has been noted that current Ahly President Mahmoud Taher, who is also a successful businessman, and who has been campaigning not only for himself but for all his board team, has spent more than LE200 million on his campaign, a figure that brought comments from the Zamalek President Mortada Mansour. “Taher has spent more money on his campaign than what US President Donald Trump spent on his presidential elections,” Mansour said.

In fact, the Central Auditing Authority has estimated that the campaign costs of all clubs combined is around a whopping LE1 billion.

Many observers have also commented on the fact that Taher, who is running for another term in office, is well aware of the popularity of his opponent Al-Khatib, also known as Bibo.

The issue of Ahly spending the most money on its campaign forced the owner of Wadi Degla club Maged Sami to sarcastically describe the elections between Ahly and Zamalek as like between Barcelona and the Bashaloush Youth Centre, Mansour’s hometown.

Prominent Egyptian media outlets reporting on the elections have been accused of lacking neutrality and clearly taking sides, which goes against the media code of ethics regarding reporting on elections. Accordingly, the Supreme National Media Council (SNMC) has issued a warning to all media outlets after the bias had become blatant. In the statement, the SNMC called on all media outlets to stick to neutrality when covering the clubs and candidates and to follow the code of ethics by being fair and giving all the candidates equal opportunities to speak about their programmes. It said the media should also differentiate between editorial content and advertorials, advertisements that are published to look like news stories. They are paid for, however, there are reports of journalists, not their newspapers, pocketing thousands of pounds from candidates in return for favourable news coverage.

The SNMC was driven to act after the media was accused of receiving huge amounts of money from certain candidates who are either known to be extremely rich or are being supported by famous business tycoons, in return for their media campaigns.

But it wasn’t only media propaganda that caused a stir. The elections have seen many legal cases being filed which either gave the green light to the eligibility of some candidates or deprived others from continuing the process. However, this was not done through legal channels. Objections and judicial appeals were presented to the newly formed Judicial Appeals Sports Committee of the National Egyptian Olympic Committee which was recently formed according to Egypt’s new sports law. Many cases have made the committee a very busy place. Decisions had to be taken within hours or a couple of days at most.

Though the media campaigns have become a tug-of-war among the candidates, those who will succeed in these historic elections cannot be predicted simply because it is all in the hands of the club members, the general assembly. Those will determine the future of their clubs for the next four years. They are not duly concerned about the media. At the end of the day, they care only about their own interests and what they believe each candidate will provide them, basically services and facilities.


Al-Ahly Club

Ahly

Its elections will be the most closely watched. Both candidates, particularly Al-Khatib, have name recognition, making the results unpredictable. The current president Taher relies on his achievements in the club in the past four years including the opening of a third club branch at Sheikh Zayed. He has laid the foundation stone for a fourth premise at New Cairo, just days earlier revealing its documents and designs. Taher also depends on selected figures joining his team including former FIFA competitions director and CAF secretary general Mustafa Fahmi as vice president and legal and financial expert Hani Sarieddin.

Al-Khatib depends on his tenure as a former vice president of the club for two terms and his fame as a superstar footballer. He brings with him former minister of youth and sports Farouk Al-Amri as his vice president and former board members with experience, including Khaled Mortagi, Khaled Al-Darandali, and former Olympic swimming great Rania Elwani, an IOC member.


Zamalek Club

Zamalek

With the recent withdrawal of Mansour’s only opponent Ahmed Suleiman and his accompanying team, which was confirmed on Monday, it seems Mansour will continue as the club’s president for the next four years. The former club’s goalkeeper and coach of the Pharaohs goalkeepers from 2004 to 2011, Suleiman justified his withdrawal by citing inequality and bias. Mansour denied the allegations that ranged from banning campaigning inside the club, preventing his rivals from even entering and urging people to file lawsuits against Suleiman. One other opponent, Hani Al-Attal also dropped out of the race, leaving it all to Mansour who despite his many controversies enjoys huge support by most of the club’s members for the facilities and services he has provided in the past years, turning the club into a “beautiful haven” as has been described.

Despite announcing his withdrawal from the elections in the media, it appears that Suleiman has not officially pulled out. In several sports talk shows he said he was still in the race, leaving club members bewildered. Hours before voters head to the polls, there was still a possibility that Suleiman’s name will be on the ballot.


Shooting Club

Shooting

Four main lists are battling it out. The first was supposed to have been led by the club’s current president Amr Al-Said but who on Tuesday was sidelined by the courts over a lawsuit not related to the elections. Al-Said was depending on the huge advancements made by the club during his mandate in both sporting achievements and construction of new sports facilities. During Al-Said’s tenure, 11 of the club’s athletes took part at the Rio Olympic Games including bronze medalist Hedaya Malak in taekwondo. Al-Said was facing competition from former board member Mohsen Tantawi who has plenty of administration experience and is backed by former club president Hussein Sabour as well as businessmen. Also running for president is former minister of petroleum Abdullah Ghorab as well as Hani Al-Nazer.

In reaction to his exclusion from the elections, Al-Said, according to reports, held talks with his lawyers in an attempt to find a solution that would clear his name and which would allow him to run. If Al-Said remains out, his main rival Tantawi will be the favourite.


Gezira Club

Gezira

It’s a bit quiet and cozy after the administration banned campaign banners anywhere on its premises. Four are running for the president’s seat including former president Ahmed Al-Said, Hamada Al-Demerdash, Noureddin Bassiouni and sportsman Amr Gazarine. The race is expected to be close.

Regardless of whoever wins the race at this elite historic club founded by the British earlier in the last century, the winner will carry a huge burden with a bunch of longtime problems that remain unresolved to now.

Gezira has a different category of aristocratic members. For decades the club’s board came and went, failing to resolve problems including parking, the cause of endless traffic jams. There have been attempts to build an underground garage but authorities have refused.

Another issue is that the club despite its popularity and heritage has no other premises. It has a piece of land in 6 October but another branch never saw the light of day.

One issue which might seem trivial to some but is very important to the club’s members is street cats, especially those invading the club from the neighbouring Gezira youth centre.


Al-Shams Club

Shams

There are six lists of members hoping to improve the club’s services and facilities including the current president and former minister Nagi Shatla, along with Essam Syam, Hishmat Fahmi, journalist Ossama Abu Zeid, current board member Amr Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Ghoneim. Each list includes faces familiar to the club’s members, including IOC member Aya Medani of the modern pentathlon. Legal cases have been filed against candidates especially the current board member Abu Zeid, who has won six court cases.

Medani also faces legal problems after her opponents claimed she was ineligible to stand for the elections because she was still a registered fencing player. However, the retired athlete proved she was not still playing professionally and the NOC sent a letter to prove she was eligible to run.

Like other clubs, Shams has had complaints from members over services and facilities, pushing most candidates to focus on making promises for a better future.


Heliopolis Club

Heliopolis

The elite club on the east side of Cairo is also expected to witness tough competition among its candidates especially its president Haroun Al-Touni, who has been running the club for eight years, and former board member Amr Al-Sonbati. Al-Touni relies on his previous experience in the club as a board member and president and promises a revolution in the construction of the club’s facilities. Al-Sonbati also depends on his previous experience but offers the club an ambitious vision for the future that would include a “real renaissance” and improvements in the sports sector, depending on his 22 years of experience as a board member with former club president Fouad Sultan. For Al-Sonbati, his slogan is action, not just words.

Heliopolis Club made history when its general assembly refused the guidelines of the NEOC and created its own regulations.

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