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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cairo Football Club Zamalek gets off lightly for fan violence


Zamalek FC was given a mild verdict by the CAF committee. (File Photo)

Zamalek FC was given a mild verdict by the CAF committee. (File Photo)
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) disciplinary committee, in a surprisingly mild verdict, has ordered crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek FC to play its next four African championship home games in an empty stadium as punishment for last month’s invasion of the pitch during their team’s match against Tunisia’s Club Africain. CAF also imposed an $80,000 fine on Zamalek.

The CAF decision was a far cry from expectations that the African football body would ban five-time African champion Zamalek for three years from participation in African tournaments. The lenient verdict follows heavy Egyptian lobbying of CAF to take into account that the pitch invasion occurred in the virtual absence of security during the African championship match in the Cairo International Stadium and amid months of political turmoil that in February forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office.

Members of the Ultras White Knights–militant, violence-prone Zamalek fans–stormed the pitch at the virtual end of their team’s return match against Club Africain, destroying everything in their path and attacking the referee and Tunisian players. UWK leaders said the fans lost control because they were for the first time in years at a match in which police did not mount a major security operation and in which there were no clashes with the police.

The police, widely seen as the enforcers of Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, had warned the UWK on the eve of the match that they would not be allowed to take flares, fireworks, smoke guns and banners into the stadium during the match. In response, the UWK advised the police that they were determined to stage one of their largest shows yet during the game. The decision by the police to absent itself from the match was designed to avoid a clash that would have complicated the force’s efforts to repair its tarnished image in post-Mubarak Egypt.

The UWK suspended its activities a day after the invasion in an admission that the group’s highly disciplined and politicized leadership had lost a round in an internal power struggle with nihilistic soccer hooligans who had joined the UWK because of its militant commitment to Zamalek and its regular confrontations with the police.

CAF suspended forcing Zamalek to play two of the four games behind closed doors but warned the club that if its militant supporters were to again disrupt a game it would be ordered to play the suspended matches without spectators and that it could be banned from taking part in African championships for a year.

CAF further fined Club African $10,000 for the entry on to the pitch of a small number of its supporters during the first round in Tunis in Zamalek in March. The incident prompted controversial Zamalek board member Ibrahim Hassan to call on his clubs fans to do the same during the return match in Cairo. Hassan got more than he probably wished for with the UWK invasion of the pitch.

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