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Thursday, February 10, 2011

FIFA Insists Egyptian League Should Remain Suspended

FIFA, soccer's world body, has advised the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), to maintain its suspension of all professional league matches until security in Egypt has been re-established.

“FIFA set a condition that there must be sufficient security for players and fans before deciding to resume games,” EFA president Samir Zaher told CNN.

“They also required that all clubs must state their approval to continue the competition,” Zaher said.

More than two weeks of mass anti-government protests in which militant soccer fans play a key role have paralyzed Egypt. The protesters demand an immediate end to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

The protests prompted the EFA to indefintely suspend all matches two weeks ago. The turmoil is splitting Egyptian soccer into pro and anti-Mubarak camps with several prominent players and coaches participating in the demonstrations.

The suspension has sparked fears that it will effect domestic competition as well as the African Cup of Nations.

Algeria, which has also suspended league matches because of anti-government protests, and Egypt backed by Tunisia where demonstrations last month toppled President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, are expected to urge the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone until August matches scheduled for March.

“Cancelling the Egyptian league will cost us a lot. The clubs may face disasters as they have spent a lot of money on training camps, sponsorship deals and player transfers,” Zaher said.

Zaher indicated that the EFA was inclined to support Mubarak's efforts to project a sense of normalcy despite the ongoing protests.

“We will hold a meeting with the clubs’ officials to agree on resuming the competition and arranging details like match times, location and referees,” he said.

Egyptian national coach Hassn Shehata has publicly expressed support for Mubarak and said he wants a lifting of the suspension.

The deep political and social differences that shape the bitter rivalry between crowned Cairo clubs Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC are reflected in their responses to the suspension.

Zamalek has said it is maintaining a rigorous training schedule despite the suspension and a military ban on training in a statement that was interpreted as support for the embattled Egyptian president.

Al Ahly says it is waiting for EFA authorization to resume training.

Contradicting Al Ahly and Zamalek’s pressure on the EFA to lift the suspension of premier league games, a number of other Egyptian coaches argue that matches should not be resolved until the protests have ended.

“The players are exhausted as they have all been awake all nights guarding their houses over the past few days. My foreign players are still very anxious as their embassies asked them to leave Egypt due to the current situation,” said Alexandria club Ittihad coach Mohamed Amer.

“Above all we need people back in the stands because there is no reason to hold a competition without supporters who are distracted by this unrest,” Amer added.

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