Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Turmoil in the house of sports

Taken aback by the ongoing clash between Ahli Club and Egypt’s Sports Ministry, Egyptians are left befuddled and unamused, Inas Mazhar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The dispute between the board of directors of Ahli sporting club, chaired by Hassan Hamdi, and Sports Minister Taher Abu Zeid has escalated throughout the week, with another influential party becoming involved — Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi’s cabinet. Any expectations that the cabinet would put an end to the dilemma were shockingly crushed as further complications ensued. In a brief summing up the week’s news on the issue: Abu Zeid’s order of the dissolution of Ahli’s board of directors was suspended by Al-Beblawi and the minister was handed a one-year jail term by a court ruling, which was appealed. The general public has been left unclear on who is right and who is wrong. The cabinet had managed to separate the troops, but had not solved the problem between the two conflicting sides — both the Ahli board and the minister of sports are still in their places.

To confound everyone further, interim President Adli Mansour has delegated Abu Zeid to represent him at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games scheduled to kick off on 7 February in Socchi, Russia. Should this be read as an indication that Abu Zeid is staying on as minister despite the rumours claiming he would be sacked by the government following the 25 January anniversary?

On Monday, Egyptians following national television were stunned to read on the news tickers that Abu Zeid was sentenced to one year in prison by a misdemeanours court. The ruling also stipulated his removal from office and a fine of LE10,000, in addition to a conviction of the sports minister for failing to implement a previous court order that ordered a dissolution of the board of directors of the Giza-based Shooting Club. Interestingly, the ruling of the court reminded Egyptians of a similar ruling against former Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who had also failed to implement a court order.

According to the ministry’s legal consultant, Reda Abdel-Moeti, the ruling can still be appealed and they are working on it. He explained that the minister has already carried out the previous court ruling via ministerial decree 1064 for the year 2013 and that the Shooting Club board was dissolved for invalidity on 21 October 2013. In a statement published on the Ministry of Sports official website, Abdel-Moeti explained that those who filed the case against the minister of sports did not provide the court with the documents to prove that the previous court ruling was executed, according to which the misdemeanours court took its decision on Monday. “Meanwhile, we are preparing all legal documents to prove the case to include in our appeal and we are sure the court will hence rule in favour of the minister of sports,” Abdel-Meoeti said.

Problems had surfaced on Saturday when Abu Zeid cancelled his own decision to temporarily extend the Ahli board term in office from 31 December 2013 till March 2014. Moreover, the minister sent the prosecution a report that included 16 financial irregularities, which he said were perpetrated by the club. Abu Zeid appointed instead a new interim board headed by former Ahli goalkeeper Adel Heikal to lead the club until elections take place in March. The minister’s decision sparked angry reactions and widespread speculation and, a mere three hours later, it was reported that the prime minister had cancelled the decision.

The two pieces of news made immediate headlines in all Egyptian media and ignited heated debate that night on all state and private channels’ talk shows. The public were divided over the issue, with Ahli officials and fans celebrating what they saw as a victory and vindication by the government and those in the opposite camp blaming the prime minister and his cabinet for needless interfering and for embarrassing their minister. Onlookers and interested parties had legitimate questions: Why would the minister of sports dissolve the Ahli club board when he was the one who gave them a three-month extension until elections took place? Why did it happen right after the announcement of the results of the referendum? Why would a prime minister cancel one of his ministers’ decisions and, more importantly, why the keenness on his part to react so quickly?

These questions have opened doors for all kinds of rumours to spread that night, such as the resignation or the sacking of the sports minister, and the creation of a new ministry that combines both Youth and Sports together to be headed by the current Youth Minister Khaled Abdel-Aziz. Matters calmed down slightly only when cabinet spokesman Hani Salah explained that the prime minister had not cancelled the minister’s decision, but just suspended it until the entire issue is given due study by the cabinet’s legal department. The spokesman denied both the resignation and sacking of the sports minister, as well as any intention to join the two ministries together.

On the following day, Abu Zeid met with the prime minister, after which he told reporters that the meeting was positive and they had discussed the Ahli matter among other pending issues. He also confirmed that he would not withdraw his decision because the Ahli board was invalid and illegal.

“The board’s term legally ended six months ago. I could have dissolved it then. The reason I extended it was to give them the chance to run the club temporarily until the elections, not to defy regulations and auction off broadcasting rights after the Ministry of Information had claimed them,” Abu Zeid told reporters.

Weeks ago, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) had signed a contract with the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) in the presence of the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Sports. According to the contract, the ERTU became the only right holder to broadcast live all national league matches of all 22 teams competing in the most popular football competition in Egypt and the region. The deal was worth LE70 million. However, the Ahli Club disagreed and decided to sign an individual deal, selling the club’s rights to another media company in return for LE41 million, which was considered by all other parties involved as an irregularity by Ahli Club.

Rumours spread and, as a result, the prime minister reacted. According to sports journalist Khaled Abdel-Moneim, the prime minister is a close friend of the owner of the media company that bought the rights from Ahli club, Mohamed Al-Amin. “The contract was due to generate huge revenues for the CBC Channel, which implies that it is in the interest of Al-Amin that the current board headed by Hassan Hamdi remains in office or the deal might collapse. Former Ahli club goalkeeper Ahmed Shobeir, now a renowned TV sports presenter, has also been backing the club because he has just joined the channel and, if the deal is cancelled, then his future with the channel is at stake,” Abdel-Moneim told Al-Ahram Weekly, claiming that the prime minister has a vested interest, or else why would he take such an immediate decision to solve this problem when he is unable to solve other daily public problems for months.

Abdel-Moneim also revealed that the main issue in the struggle between the minister of sports and Ahli Club is the constitutional stipulation that prevents anyone from staying in office for more than eight running years. “This is why Ahli is fighting. This board and its chairman, Hassan Hamdi, have been wrangling with four successive ministers for this cause, ever since former head of the Sports Council Hassan Sakr initiated the law. One sports minister after the other, Emad Al-Banani, Al-Amri Farouk and now Taher Abu Zeid, are in support of that law. But Hamdi, who has been in office in different capacities for 23 years now, and others still want to continue. If the government has identified only two terms of five years each in the constitution for the head of state, why not for clubs as well. New blood is needed everywhere,” he said.

Speculating on the prime minister’s motives behind his decision, Abdel-Moneim revealed what he believes could be the reason why the sports minister chose that timing in particular to dissolve the club. “I think it was the best timing for him. The constitution became valid and effective that day. According to Article 75 of the new constitution, civil authorities, such as sports clubs, cannot be dissolved by the government except through a court order. This is why he took both decisions together, to dissolve the club’s board and send the irregularities report to the prosecutor,” he opined.

According to the Ministry of Sports, the Central Auditing Authority (CAS) has already addressed in a formal letter signed by its Chairman Hisham Geneina the minister of sports with all documents of the irregularities committed by Ahli club board and asked the minister, in his capacity as the authorised governing body, to take the required proceedings against the club.

“The minister of sports is not corrupt and will never support any corruption, whether it be financial or administrative, in clubs or federations. He has always been fair and it is not true that he is settling old accounts with Ahli club. These are all rumours. He has vowed to respect the oath he swore in front of the president when he was selected to lead the ministry and always work for the sake of the country,” said Magdi Kamel, the sports minister’s media consultant.

At the time of writing this article on Tuesday, all remained in place. According to Kamel, Abu Zeid has continued working in his office following the latest in Egyptian sports. “Once more, I confirm, there is no mention or thought of resignation and nobody has spoken to the minister concerning this. It’s all vile rumours and speculation that aim at damaging the country’s prestige, as well as the image and reputation of the Sports Ministry and its minister. Ahli is using its supporters to pressure the government forgetting that the government works for the sake of the country and it wins in the end. No one terrorises the government,” Kamel held.

“The minister has simply used the authority invested in him when taking this decision and the prime minister has put it on hold as he sees the timing is critical these days. I believe it is a political reaction from the prime minister, but it doesn’t mean the ministry’s decision is annulled as has been misinterpreted by some. This misleads the public and distorts the whole issue,” Kamel said.

Meanwhile, Ahli club’s board member, Khaled Mortagui, told the Weekly that the club understands that the prime minister’s decision has not annulled the minister’s, but that the decision is temporarily on hold. “We don’t know until when. But just as it is said that the cabinet’s legal committee is studying the sports minister’s decision, we are doing the same as well. The board of directors has delegated its legal committee, which comprises chancellors Mahmoud Fahmi and Ragaai Attia, to study the documents on which the minister based his decision thoroughly and prepare the club’s defence,” Mortagui disclosed.

“If the legal committee finds that there has been false allegations, libel or slander against the reputation and honour of any member of the board, they should immediately file a suit against whoever committed it, be it the Ministry of Sports, the media or anyone else,” Mortagui said.

Mortagui imparted that Abu Zeid, a former renowned footballer at the club and a former board member, is settling old accounts with the club. “Indeed it is true, and surprisingly, all his decisions and actions are contradictory and he works for his own self-interest. He was the moderator in the EFA selling the broadcasting rights to the ERTU and he denied us our rights.”

Mortagui, an active FIFA committee member who is familiar with international sports rules and regulations, is astounded at how the minister’s decision contradicts with the agreement between the Ministry of Sports and the International Olympic Committee on 26 November in which the IOC offered the Egyptian government only six months to review and amend its sports law to guarantee no governmental intervention in the affairs of the sports clubs and federations.

With the fate of both decisions to be determined, both sides remain cautious over what the coming days will hold, especially with the nation facing an unpredictable state of affairs next week. One thing is absolutely certain amidst the many ambiguities, the winner of this takes all.

 

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