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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Libya resists pressure to surrender hosting of African soccer tournaments

A rebel fighter tears a portrait of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi after taking the town of Ryayna.(AFP photo)
A rebel fighter tears a portrait of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi after taking the town of Ryayna.(AFP photo)
Libya is resisting pressure that it surrender the hosting of three major international soccer events because of violence racking the country.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has advised Libya that an early cutoff date is needed for a decision on whether to allow the 2013 African Cup of Nations as well as next year’s CHAN African Nations Championship and Futsal Championship to be hosted by the North African nation.

Fighting between NATO-backed anti-government rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi forced CAF earlier this year to move at the last minute the African under-20 tournament from Libya to South Africa.

“It was a challenge; when it became clear that it was impossible to organize it, we only had about five weeks to look for another host. We were grateful to have South Africa ready to host -- they did a terrific job,” CAF secretary-general Hicham El Amrani told the BBC.

Mr. Qaddafi is fighting to cling to power despite widespread demands that he step down after 41 years in office. The fighting has virtually split the country and prompted the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone.

Mr. Amrani said CAF was concerned about the violence.

“Of course we are thinking about it as a matter of priority… the CAF executive committee is thinking about plan Bs or plan Cs. We agreed an internal timeline (for the) latest moment at which we should decide on switching the tournament to another venue but as of today the Nations Cup of 2013 is still in Libya,” Mr. Amrani said.

Egypt is considering a bid to replace Libya as the host for the 2013 Africa Cup. 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.

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.

EFA officials believe that security in the country has been re-established following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak to a degree that a bid for the Africa Cup of Nations is feasible. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the mass anti-government protests that drove Mr. Mubarak from power in February.

The situation in Egyptian soccer remains nonetheless volatile.

EFA officials downplay a wave of fan violence during recent domestic and international matches that has prompted the interior minister to threaten to cancel this year’s season and the EFA to warn clubs that they would be penalized if they cannot control their supporters.

The militants have since used a campaign to eradicate corruption in Egyptian soccer to support crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC’s demand that the EFA allow a replay of the club’s recent Premier League match against Maqassa. Zamalek lost the match as a result of controversial decision by the referee. Zamalek has charged that the referee like other Egyptian referees is on the payroll of its 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.

Zamalek has since withdrawn its threat but Premier League team Ismailia SC has advised the EFA that it is withdrawing from the competition in protest against of its match last week against Al Jaish SC, a club owned by the ruling Egyptian military. Ismailia lost 1:0.

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