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Debate over resuming Egypt League
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 20 - 02 - 2012

CAIRO - The postponement of Egypt's Premier League and the suspension of all sports competitions nationwide, as well declaring a state of mourning, have been cause for much debate.
According to soccer experts, the calling off of local competition could be the downfall of the Egyptian clubs, because there have many commitments and obligations. They have contracts with advertising agencies that pump money into these clubs.
The Egyptian Premier League guarantees clubs three main financial sources: the matches' tickets revenues, advertisements and TV broadcasting rights. The Premier League has been postponed, while most soccer clubs have suspended all their sporting activities and declared 40 days of mourning. They include Al-Ahly Club, whose period of mourning will end on March 11.
Against the League's resumption
Most citizens and many soccer experts are not in favour of resuming the League now, as the players and coaches are psychologically unprepared to resume the matches after the deadly scenes they witnessed in Port Said.
A number of Ahly key players, led by playmaker Mohamed Abou Treika, Mohamed Barakat, Ahmed Fathi and Emad Mete'b, have decided to stop playing until the results of the investigations into the Port Said tragedy are announced.
Ahly football director Sayyed Abdel-Hafez says that the team will start a Gulf training camp in the coming period, in the United Arab of Emirates, lasting for a fortnight, to prepare themselves for the team's African Champions League match at the end of March.
According to Abdel-Hafez, Manuel José da Silva, the Red Devils' technical coach, held a session with the players last Friday to try and distract them from the Port Said tragedy.
Ahmed Naggi, Ahly goalkeeper's coach, believes that the League shouldn't resume yet, because of the bad experience the players and the coaching staff have had.
"It's impossible to resume the Premier League this season, because there won't be time to clear the backlog of matches," he says.
“I'm not against the resumption of sports activities after the end of the mourning period, but resuming the Premier League will only cause more chaos.
"Besides, the national teams and the clubs have other official obligations. The first national team have the African Cup qualifiers and the Olympic team have this year's Olympic Games, due to be held in London, while Al-Ahly, Zamalek, Enppi and Haras el-Hedoud are participating in the African tournaments.”
Naggi suggests that the Premier League be cancelled this year, with the resumption of the Egyptian Cup, after the end of the mourning period, according to the group system.
Azmi Megahed, the EFA spokesman, denies reports that the League could resume in empty stadiums after the mourning period ends on March 15.
"The date for its resumption has yet to be decided," he says, pointing out that this case is closed temporary till the end of the investigations of the Port Said events.
Last Wednesday, hundreds of Al-Ahly fans marched from the club's headquarters through central Cairo to the downtown office of Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, demanding justice for their friends and relatives killed in the Port Said Stadium violence at the beginning of the month.
These fans were carrying pictures of their relatives and friends, as well as the national flag and the Ahly flag.
Mohamed Farag Amer, Smouha Club President, says that he cannot think about sporting activities resuming in the country, until the martyrs get their rights. He too stresses that the perpetrators must be punished.
Resumption with tough measures
Meanwhile, some Egyptian sports experts have urged officials to take the necessary measures to prevent something like ‘The Massacre of Port Said' ever happening again, stressing the dire need for sporting events to resume in the country after the end of the mourning period.
They also has stressed that the media should make the fans aware of the regulations and the need to respect their opponents, in order to avoid further tragedies. On Wednesday February 1, in Port Said, a match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly turned violent, claiming the lives of at least 74 Ahly fans and injuring around 1,000 more.
Helmi Toulan, the Police Union coach, said that resuming the Premier League is necessary. "Life must go on, despite this catastrophe. But I don't mean that resuming the Premier League means forgetting the victims of Port Said," he told Melody TV Sports channel.
“Rescinding the League will cause Egyptian clubs many technical and financial problems. Resuming the League is something urgent for all the workers in local sports associations.”
Hassan el-Shazli, another soccer expert, is adamant that sports activities, particularly the Premier League, should resume, warning of the negative consequences if the suspension continues.
He suggests that sports events should resume in the presence of just a few fans, to make it easier for the security forces to keep control. "Reducing the number of fans may reduce the violence on the pitch," el-Shazli explains, adding that players, coaches and administrators have all been affected by the suspension.
"How are they meant to live, if sports are their livelihood?” he asks, admitting that the Port Said tragedy was Egypt's worst-ever sporting disaster.
"The stoppage will also affect the performance of many clubs, which will in turn affect the national teams, as training camps are not enough."
There are only three European-based Pharaohs: Mohamed Zidan in the German Premier League (Mainz club), Ahmed el-Mohamadi in the English Premier League (Sunderland club) and Dodi el-Gabbas in the Belgian Premier League (Lierse club).
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has agreed to postpone Egypt's African Cup of Nations' qualifier against Central Africa till June 30.
The match was due to take place on February 29, but Egypt asked CAF to postpone it due to the country's state of mourning following The Massacre of Port Said.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) board members have resigned, in solidarity with the families of the fans who died in Port Said.
Tareq el-Ashri, Haras el-Hedoud coach, has expressed his sadness at the cloud hovering over the country, suggesting that the security forces give up securing matches, leaving this to the clubs' private security companies. "This will prevent violence between police and fans," he explains, noting that discipline will only come back if the fans are less unrestrained.
Farouq Gaafar, el-Geish Club coach, stresses that it's vital for sporting activities to resume in Egypt, especially the Premier League and with the fans in attendance.
"The resumption of the Premier League will help people overcome their grief, provided that there is adequate security," he says.
"I think it would be wise to resume sporting activities, because those responsible for this tragedy want to bring the nation to a halt; if the League stoppage continues, we will have conceded defeat," adds Abdel-Hafez, stressing that the club will never neglect the martyrs' rights.
Ahmed el-Dabbe, the EFA's Players Committee chief, agrees, warning that cancelling the Premier League this season would be 'catastrophic'.
"It would be a nightmare for the players, as there's nothing in their contracts to say they should be paid if the League is cancelled," el-Dabbe points out.
“The clubs must pay their players if the League is cancelled. I want the Premier League to resume, as this is in the best interests of the clubs, players and the national teams.”
Zamalek Vice-President Raouf Gasser is also against the Premier League being cancelled, stressing the need to resume the local competition as soon as possible.
He suggests the remaining matches be played in empty stadiums. "Resuming the League without the fans is the best thing to do, as the clubs will suffer terribly if the League is cancelled," says Gasser.
“Although this will mean the clubs losing matches revenue, at least they won't lose their revenue from sponsorship and TV broadcasting.”
Amer Hussein, the ex-head of the EFA's competition committee, says that securing matches is the responsibility of the security bodies. “They are responsible for securing the players, coaching staff and fans, and only they have the right to cancel any match.
“I deeply regret the deadly incident in Port Said. The law must be applied to prevent such violence in future," Hussein stresses.
The violence that erupted after the Ahly-Masry match was one of the deadliest incidents in the history of soccer worldwide. It saw thousands of supporters of Port Said team Al-Masry invade the pitch and attack fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly with bottles and rocks.

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