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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Financial woes of Egyptian football league force Ittihad Alexandria board to resign


Fans of the Ittihad al-Skanadrya club during one of the Egyptian Premier League matches. (File Photo)

Fans of the Ittihad al-Skanadrya club during one of the Egyptian Premier League matches. (File Photo)
The board of the troubled Egyptian Premier League club Ittihad al-Skanadrya has resigned for the second time in as many months.

The resignation comes as the team is languishing at the bottom of the league and players are refusing to train because they have not been paid for months. Ittihad promoted earlier this month 15 of its Under-21 players to its top tier team to replace its striking players.

Ittihad has an EGP 930,000 ($156,000) a month player payroll.

Fan protests forced former Ittihad chairman Mohamed Moselhi, a member of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP), to resign shortly after mass anti-government demonstrations forced the Egyptian leader to resign after 30 years in office. Soccer fans played a key role in the toppling of Mr. Mubarak.

Mr. Moselhi’s successor, Essam Shaaban, had been scheduled to manage the club until elections scheduled for September 2011 produced a new board. Mr. Shaaban and his board decided to step down early because they were unable to resolve the club’s immediate financial problems.

Ittihad, like many other premier league clubs, has been hit hard by the three-month suspension of the league because of Egypt’s political turmoil. Egypt’s military rulers earlier this reluctantly agreed to lift the ban imposed in late January to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point only after clubs warned that a continued suspension could bankrupt them.

Ittihad is the latest club to be hit by the fallout of Egypt’s political turmoil and the financial impact of dependency on government handouts that have become increasingly uncertain as the country seeks World Bank assistance to finance its $2.2 billion budget gap.

Fans are also targeting the management of Premier League club Ismailia SC. Military police last week stepped in after demonstrating Yellow Dragons–Ismailia’s militant, violence-prone fan group—demonstrated in front of the house of club chairman Nasser Aboul-Hassan, whose resignation they demanded. Mr. Aboul-Hassan had earlier attempted to appease the fans by backing their demand for a cap on transfer pricing and player salaries.

“We want the departure of this board because the directors spent millions to sign players and appoint new coaching staff but failed to lead the team to any titles,” Mohamed Rashad, a leader of the protests, said.

Fans are further demanding the head of crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC board member Ibrahim Hassan who publicly supported Mubarak at the moment that the club’s supporters were battling police and pro-Mubarak groups on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the walk-up to the president’s resignation.

Zamalek is anxiously awaiting a decision this week by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on how it will punish the club for the disruption by militant fans of its African championship game against Tunisia’s Club Africain. Hundreds of members of the Ultras White Knights (UWK), Zamalek’s fanatic fan group, stormed the Cairo International Stadium Pitch on April 2, destroying everything in their path and attacking the referee and Tunisian players. Zamalek officials fear that CAF could ban their club from competing in African tournaments for several years.

Mr. Hassan was accused of instigating the incident in a radio interview after a first round encounter in March with Club Africain in Tunis.

“This can’t be a football game. This is a fiasco. Our goalkeeper Mahmoud Abdul-Rahim found a supporter lying in the goal when he countered a dangerous ball. Other (Tunisian) supporters were running across the field. This is not the freedom we were calling for. I tell you this will be repeated in Egypt. I call on Zamalek fans to come down during the return game in Cairo,” Mr. Hassan told Egyptian online radio GoalFMRadio.com.

Egypt’s most popular and wealthiest club, Al Ahly SC, which has an estimated fan base of 50 million, fears that it could become the latest team to be affected by the league’s financial woes. Club officials fear that they may not be able to pay the €80,000 a month (the equivalent of $115,467) salary of Portuguese trainer Manuel Jose following the death this week of one of Al Ahly’s key sponsors, Kuwaiti billionaire Nasser al-Kharaffi.

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