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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Egypt may bid for 2013 African Cup amid mounting violence and anti-corruption campaign

An Egyptian fan who colored his face similar to the Egyptian flag. (File photo)
An Egyptian fan who colored his face similar to the Egyptian flag. (File photo)
Egypt is considering a bid for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations amid expectations that the tournament will have to be moved from Libya because of fighting between NATO-backed rebels and forced loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) sees the bid as a way to restore Egyptian pride after the country’s national team failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 29 years. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has said it is discussing moving the 2013 tournament to a new location.

Earlier, CAF moved the 2011 African Youth Championship from Libya to South Africa because of the violence in the country.
Egypt last hosted the continent's biggest football festival in 2006, when it won the first of three consecutive titles to reach a record seven titles overall.

Egypt’s recent draw with South Africa forced controversial national coach Hassan Shehata to resign. Egypt needed to win the match to retain a chance of making it to the 2012 finals.

Mr. Shehata was criticized for not bringing young blood into the team and for having supported President Hosni Mubarak during the mass anti-government protests that ousted him from power in February. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the protests and feel betrayed by his pro-Mubarak stance.

EFA officials believe that security has been re-established following Mr. Mubarak’s departure to a degree that a bid for the Africa Cup of Nations is feasible. The officials downplay a wave of fan violence during recent domestic and international matches that has prompted the interior minister to threat a cancellation of this year’s season and the EFA to warn clubs that they would be penalized if they cannot control their supporters. CAF imposed a $80,000 fine on crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC and ordered it to play its next two African matches behind closed doors after militants stormed the pitch in April during a match against Tunisia’s Club Africain.

The Ultras White Knights, the militant Zamalek fans, have announced that they are returning on Friday to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the scene of their pitched battles with the police and Mubarak loyalists, to protest “rampant corruption” of the EFA board.

The protest is part of a UWK campaign to clean Egyptian soccer of Mubarak-appointed officials, including EFA president Samir Zaher, and force the EFA board to resign. Mr. Zaher said last month that he would resign before his contract ends in 18 months’ time but did not give an exact date.

The campaign supports Zamalek’s demand that the EFA allow a replay of the club’s recent Premier League match against Maqassa, which Zamalek lost as a result of controversial decision by the referee. Zamalek has charged that the referee like other Egyptian referees is on the payroll of the club’s arch Cairo rival, Al Ahly SC. It accused the EFA of “oppression” and said decision of its board amounted to “a failure to satisfyingly manage” the association.

Zamalek, which is competing for its first title since 2004, threatened to pull out of the league after its 1-0 defeat by Maqassa. It accused the match’s referee, Yasser Mahmoud, of biased decisions. In response, the EFA suspended Mr. Mahmoud, but this failed to placate Zamalek.

Al Ahly and Zamalek are scheduled to face off in late June for the Premier League title in a match that many fear could erupt in violence between militant fans of both clubs.

The Zamalek campaign against the EFA has been joined by Premier League club Ismailia SC, which has withdrawn its confidence in the board. The Egyptian Revolutionary Alliance, a coalition of groups that were part of anti-Mubarak demonstrations, said it was organizing a separate demonstration against corruption in sports with the EFA as its first target.

“We are so upset that the revolution hasn’t reached the sports field yet despite its obvious collapsing. Our demand for a cleansing of the sport world is no less important than any other political or social demands seeing as we support its budget with our money; we pay in taxes,” said Amer El-Wakil, one of the demonstration’s organizers.

Zamalek initially demanded that foreign referees be flown in to manage the season’s remaining league matches, but later dropped the demand because it would not be able to fund it. Zamalek like other Egyptian clubs is financially stressed as a result of the fact that league matches were suspended this year for three months to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point.

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