Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Soccer’s red light

There are hardly any signs that the domestic football league season will ever start. Inas Mazhar reports on the gloomy atmosphere

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Egyptian Football Association is still waiting for approval from the Ministry of Interior to start the 2012-2013 season on 15 December as is scheduled. However, so far, no approval has been given and it doesn’t look like it will be given.
With the current political unrest in the country -- the aftereffects of last year’s uprising which toppled the government -- football is the least thing on the mind of the Ministry of Interior.
In its last meeting, the EFA set 15 December as the date for the start of the most popular football competition in Egypt, the national league. The schedule includes 18 teams and a draw for the fixtures is to be held.
According to the EFA’s official website, the plan is to hold the domestic competition without fans in a round-robin competition. The statement also said that in order to begin the competition as scheduled in mid-December, a security approval must arrive by the first week of December at the most.
EFA board member Ihab Leheta said that while it was true that a date had been set for the beginning of the competition, it does not mean that the event will be held without the approval of the Ministry of Interior. “It all depends on that letter to guarantee securing the matches even if they are played without fans. If we don’t receive that letter, then we can’t play matches,” Leheta told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The national league competition season was cancelled mid-way through the season following the Ahli versus Port Said disaster in which 73 people were killed, mainly Ahli supporters, in clashes following a national league match on 1 February. Following the tragedy, all football events in Egypt were halted. Whatever foreign tournaments were played, including African games, were played behind closed doors.
Another security risk is Ahli’s fanatic football fans the Ultras and their refusal that the league start before justice is served regarding those who were killed in Port Said. They claim that the trial of those accused is moving at a snail’s pace, has been going on for almost 10 months and has been postponed several times. The Ultras have prevented the restart of the competition several times by protesting, threatening and attacking the EFA headquarters and the Ahli club.
Leheta, who has been in charge of the second and third division competition at the EFA before his election as a board member, said the second division had already started without fans. Almost two weeks have been played so far and are incident-free. Still, he said that this did not mean a green light for the national competition. “We can say it might be an indication, yes, but that was before the current situation in the whole country. Let’s hope for the best. We’re following up with the security officials and we’ll see.”
Though Egypt’s Minister of Defence Abdel-Fatah Al-Seisi has announced his approval to host the national league matches in the more secure military stadiums, the approval of the Ministry of Interior is still needed as it has always been their main task to secure football matches and any other sports events being held in the country.
While waiting, the national team head coach Bob Bradley continues to draw up plans for the national team which is preparing for the 2014 World Cup qualifications. The last friendly match was against Georgia where the two teams played to a 1-1 draw last week. The Pharaohs were expected to meet Ghana in another friendly on 10 January in Abu Dhabi, but that might be cancelled after it was reported that Ghana has approached the Tunisian Federation for a friendly in Abu Dhabi on 11 January.
The resumption of the league has been postponed four times since Port Said, forcing players and coaches to concede it might not start at all, neither now nor for at least two more seasons. Already, some clubs have suspended their football activities while others are facing bankruptcy in addition to advertisers and sponsors who have stopped paying their installments to the clubs since what they are paying for is out of service.
Many players have threatened to leave Egypt while others have opened negotiations with foreign clubs. Egypt’s former head coach of the Olympic team Hani Ramzi has taken a job as head coach of the Belgium side Lierse while the world’s most capped player Ahmed Hassan has announced that he will be moving to Anderlecht in January. Hassan has led several footballers in protests in front of the presidential palace calling on President Mohamed Morsi to intervene and bring back the competition.
If the league is cancelled, the entire football business will collapse. According to Zamalek club board chairman Mamdouh Abbas, the cancellation of this season means much harm to the clubs. “All clubs will suffer, not just Zamalek. The big and small clubs together,” Abbas told reporters on his way to a meeting at the EFA. Sarcastically, he said, “If the Ministry of Interior does not reply, we should beat up the minister of interior for not permitting the domestic league to start.”
Enppi’s head coach Tarek Al-Ashri said he doesn’t think the national league will start. “It’s not the first time. It has been postponed several times before and if it happens again, the players will lose interest, enthusiasm and there will be severe consequences.”
Head coach of the Zamalek club Jorvan Viera is anxious for a final decision. He said that he would be happy if the league started as scheduled on 15 December because that will mean he will remain in the club “which I have grown attached to.” He added that he had informed management that in case of an official cancellation or another postponement, he’ll have to go by the end of the month.
Al-Gouna’s head coach Anwar Salama described the statements by the EFA as “painkillers” to everyone involved in football, and believes the league will not be held this season. “Anyway, in case of an approval, we should be informed at least two weeks in advance so we can warm up and prepare for the competition.”

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