Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1129, 3 - 9 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Kick off next month

Finally, Egypt’s empty stadiums will come back to life — notwithstanding the fact they will be empty — after an agreement
was reached to start the national league on 2 February Inas Mazhar reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

This time it seems serious. And the reason is because this time the announcement did not come only from the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) but was also confirmed in a letter from the Ministry of Interior and signed by the minister himself, Ahmed Gamaleddin. The football league has been scheduled and rescheduled to start several times since it was cancelled mid-way through last season. The EFA made several announcements and set many dates but it was the minister of interior who consistently refused to adhere to a debut time, stating the security bodies were not ready to safeguard matches given the country’s political instability and a less than full force police force. Now, though, security officials have given the green light for the season to start.
The happy news for all those involved in football was announced on Saturday after a meeting that included the ministers of sports and the interior Al-Amri Farouk and Gamaleddin as well as the EFA President Gamal Allam. The three initially agreed that the domestic competition should finally resume, on 1 February, marking the first anniversary of the Port Said tragedy in which 72 football fans were killed in a league soccer riot.
A statement on the EFA official website confirmed the agreement among all the parties. It was officially announced that the matches will resume in February and clubs were called in to the EFA for each to name its home stadium for home matches.
The Ministry of Sports also agreed with the Egyptian National Olympic Committee that 1 February be called ‘The Day of Sports Martyrs’. In an official letter from the Ministry of Sports, the minister informed the EFA that “no sports activities are to take place on that day in memory of the victims of the Port Said disaster and tragedy”. Accordingly the final date for the resumption of the domestic competition will see the event kick off on 2 February.
Allam called the families of the victims of the Port Said disaster and the leaders of Ahli Ultras – most of those killed in Port Said were Ahli fans -- and asked them to join the EFA officials in a meeting on 15 January to share in drawing up the appropriate plans for preparations for the memorial service of the first anniversary of the worst soccer-rated violence in Egypt and one of the worst in world football history.
Ahlis Ultras had repeatedly vowed they would block any attempt at starting the league until those responsible for the Port Said massacre are brought to justice. A trial in the case has yet to issue any verdict which has angered the Ultras who claim justice is too slow. They have raided the premises of EFA and Ahli club during training to show their resolve and determination to get what they call retribution for the victims.
One of the main conditions for the Ministry of Interior starting the league was that all matches are to be held without fans and in military stadiums, at least for the first round. Nine stadiums will host the league matches of which seven are military stadiums: the Military Academy, Al-Geish, Al-Salam and Air Defence in Cairo, Haras Al-Hedoud and Borg Al-Arab in Alexandria, Al-Geish in Suez, Al-Gouna in Hurghada and Petro Sport in Cairo.
Another point of optimism was the visit of a delegation from the Ministry of Interior to the EFA earlier this week during which they discussed the precautions to be taken to secure the matches until all safety requirements are finalised.
It is anticipated that by February the trials of the Port Said disaster would have ended and verdicts against the accused are passed, tempering the anger of the Ultras who would have no more objections to the resumption of the national league.
Even before the decision of the return of the league was announced the Ultras of Green Eagles who belong to Masri club of Port Said stopped railway trains from passing in their protest which called for speeding up the trials and moving the court to Port Said instead of Cairo were the families of the accused have been for the past 10 months commuting forth and back to attend the trials at the Police Academy in Cairo.
No one was happier than those working in the football business after the announcement of the return of the league. Players, coaches, clubs, referees, employees, advertisers, sponsors and media all stagnated without soccer, by far the most popular sport in Egypt.
Many of the clubs are close to going bankrupt. Even wealthy clubs like Ahli, Zamalek, Ismaili and Masri are heavily in debt.
The clubs have started calling up their players for training in preparation for the league resumption.
Vice-President of the EFA Hassan Farid thanked the ministers of Interior, defence and sports for their effort and support in bringing back the national competition into effect. Farid called the clubs to start gearing up for the new season and to bring life back to Egyptian stadiums, notwithstanding the fact they will be empty.
EFA board member Mahmoud Al-Shami is optimistic about the resumption of the national competition confirming that it will definitely have a positive effect on the national team in its quest to enter the 2014 World Cup. “The players will now have the chance to play more in the domestic league and the head coach will have better choices to make and the chance to follow up on the players’ improvements in the field.”
The big question is whether any sort of violence will bring an abrupt halt to the reopening plans. Disruptions are possible on 25 January, the second anniversary of the 2011 revolution which toppled the government.

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