Security fears force indefinite delay of Egypt's football season
Wednesday 17 October 2012
Top-flight Egyptian footballers suffered a setback this week when sports officials announced that the Egyptian Premier League, one of the most high-profile domestic championships in Africa, would be indefinitely suspended as a result of the deadly stadium disaster that killed 74 supporters in Port Said earlier this year.
The decision, which was applauded by friends and family of those who died, came after a freeze imposed immediately after the deadly clashes which erupted when Port Said's local side played against Cairo-based Al-Ahly in February.
It threatens to reopen old wounds between proponents of the ban – who include Al-Ahly supporters who fiercely protect the memory of their fallen comrades – and players who argue that Egypt's domestic game is suffering serious damage.
Members of the Ultras Ahlawy, the die-hard football fans who were among those knifed and stampeded to death by groups of opposition supporters and thugs in February, say it is distasteful to resume the Premier League while those accused of orchestrating the killings are on trial.
Their cause has been backed by numerous politicians, including high profile members of the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal opposition factions. "Stopping the league is a sign of respect for the martyrs," said Ahmad el-Sha'er, a 23-year-old ultra.
A total of 73 defendants are on trial accused of involvement in the stadium disaster. They included nine senior security officials, three officials from Port Said's club and a number of fans.
Yet Mr El-Sha'er said he believed the trial was a "fake" investigation. Voicing the suspicions of many Egyptians – large numbers of whom believe the clashes were planned by pro-Mubarak stooges loyal to the old regime – he said the trial was a smokescreen to protect the real culprits.
Large numbers of top-flight players have started sailing against the prevailing political winds, voicing their opposition to any continued suspension.
Hundreds of footballers and coaches gathered outside the Ministry of Sport in Cairo this month to demand a resumption of the league. They included some of Egypt's biggest stars.
Expressing the desperation shared by many of his colleagues – some of whom have had little top flight action for eight months – veteran midfielder Ahmed Hassan told Egyptian newspapers the ban was harming the sporting economy. "Football helps more than five million Egyptians earn their livings," he said. "It's important that it resumes."
Yet he and his colleagues face an uphill battle – one that has been made even harder by the Hillsborough-like wave of grief which was triggered by the Port Said disaster. In the minds of many Al-Ahly ultras, events earlier this year have become indelibly stained by the legacy of the Mubarak regime. As a result, any perceived slight is ferociously opposed.
When the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced last month that it intended to resume the Premier League, die-hard Al-Ahly fans launched fireworks at the organisation's Cairo headquarters and then stormed the building.
Days later, when the one-off Super Cup competition was due to take place in Alexandria, the ultras threatened to disrupt the match.
Following the continued protests, officials delayed the start of the league until 17 October. But the eventual kick-off has now been put back indefinitely.
Latest in Sport
Paul Scholes: Emirates was the easy option for Mesut Ozil. He needs a leader - and Arsenal don't have them
Ronaldinho dream XI: John Terry, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele are in as former Barcelona superstar names ideal side
Police want right of veto over 'high risk' Friday night fixtures in wake of new Premier League TV deal
Gareth Bale reveals the two things he hates about Real Madrid: 'Getting nutmegged and Spanish spiders'
Cristiano Ronaldo shows off his dance moves, including the moonwalk
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
- 3 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 GamerGate: developer Tim Schafer provokes rage with joke about online gaming activists at industry awards
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests