Tunisia Allows African Championship Game in Step Towards Lifting Ban on Soccer Matches

The Tunisian government and the country’s football association have authorized the first professional soccer match as a litmus test for deciding whether to lift the ban on professional soccer matches since mass government protests forced President Zine Abdeine Ben Ali to resign in January after 23 years in office.

Fans will be allowed to attend Friday’s African championship match between Tunisia’s Club Africain and Rwanda’s APR in the Rades Stadium outside Tunis, but entry to the game will be controlled by Club Africain.

Tunisian soccer officials hope that if the match takes place without incident authorities will lift the suspension of league matches imposed after protests erupted in December in a bid to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a rally point for the demonstrators.

The Tunisian decision to allow the African championship match to go ahead follows a similiar decision by military authorities in Egypt to allow a match between storied Cairo club FC Zamalek and Kenya’s Ulinizi Stars to take place in Cairo as a test to see whether that country’s suspended league could be restarted.

The February 27 match went off without incident but authorities have yet to lift the suspension declared in late January because of protests that last month ousted President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in office.

Egyptian soccer officials warn that the prolonged suspension could cost the country’s clubs and national team dearly.

Tunisian soccer executives fear that authorities like their counterparts in Egypt may be reluctant to restart the league because of ongoing political turmoil. Demonstrations have continued in Tunisia since Ben Ali’s demise and the interim Prime Minister and two ministers have resigned in recent days.

Club African needs to win Friday’s match after drawing 2:2 against APR in the first round in Kigali.
Club Africain continued to train during the turmoil and played several friendly matches behind closed doors.

Five members of the Club Africain squad were part of the Tunisian national team that last month won the African Cup of Nations for Home-Based Players (CHAN) in Sudan last month.

Club Africain held fresh elections in the wake of the Ben Ali’s ousting and appointed a new chairman and board.


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