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Egypt to kick off fifth domestic league without fans as crowd ban stands
Published in Ahram Online on 30 - 07 - 2018

The 60th edition of the Egyptian Premier League kicks off on Tuesday with Ittihad of Alexandria hosting Arab Contractors in the coastal city, yet local fans will once again miss out on the live spectacle, as the crowd ban implemented due to security concerns in 2012 has still not been lifted.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA), backed by the ministries of sports and the interior, has repeatedly expressed its intention to allow fans back at matches, after almost seven years without attendance.
"We are currently working on the fan ID project and we are still waiting for the rest of the clubs to finish their fan databases, as Ahly and Zamalek did before," EFA chairman Hani Abou-Rida told a local television programme on Sunday, adding that he was grateful for the efforts made by the two ministries.
The story starts on 1 February 2012, when 72 Ahly supporters were killed and dozens were severely injured in bloody clashes with rival fans from Port Said's Masry following a league game in Port Said.
Seventy-three defendants, including nine police officers, were charged with involvement in the incident, and after a long process – which caused riots in the coastal city, leaving even more causalities – 10 defendants received final death verdicts last year, while another 25 received between five-year and 15-year prison sentences.
Two successive domestic seasons were cancelled in the wake of the Port Said disaster, and the beginning of the league on Tuesday marks the fifth league in a row to be held behind closed doors since the incident.
"Playing for seven years behind closed doors is unacceptable and suggests a bad image for Egypt, the land of security," Abou-Rida asserted, asking clubs and fans "to be responsible and play their part."
The EFA board, which has displayed confidence this summer in the face of a wave of criticism after the disappointing appearance of the national team at the 2018 World Cup, have also pointed the finger at the interior ministry for the delay in lifting of the crowd ban.
"We all know that the interior ministry are the ones responsible for making this decision. Please stop blaming us; we want fans back, the same as you," the EFA's Competition Committee head Amer Hussein told a radio station on Monday.
In fact, authorities did allow a minimal number of spectators to attend a league game in February 2015, but the game resulted in another bloody disaster; 20 Zamalek fans were killed and dozens injured at the gates of Cairo's Air Defence Stadium after police tried to bar spectators without tickets from entering the stadium.
Continental competition games held in Egypt have however been held in the presence of a small number of spectators in recent years, and a full-capacity stadium was approved for the national team's qualifiers for the World Cup.
Nearly seven years on, after major political change and four different presidents, the country's much-loved domestic competition is still being held behind closed doors.
Paradoxically, Egypt will host the UAE Super Cup in Cairo, an agreement announced a few days after confirming an Egyptian-Saudi Super Cup.
Ahram Online approached officials from the interior ministry but they were not available to comment.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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