Egypt will ask the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone its crucial match against South Africa, currently scheduled for March 24, by three months because of the turmoil in its country.
Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com reported that the postponement was designed to allow the country’s national squad to get up to speed after a month of forced inactivity.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) suspended all professional league matches on January 24 and banned training to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a rallying point for the opposition that earlier this month forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office.
"The team must have suffered a dip in form after the league was halted, so we want to put off the game with South Africa," FilGoal.com quoted Egyptian assistant national coach Hamada Sedki as saying.
"We will send a letter to CAF on Wednesday. We will ask them to play the game in June should they accept our request," Sedki added.
Fans have demanded the resignation of Egyptian national coach Hassan Shehata because of his support for Mubarak during the protests.
The EFA has agreed meanwhile with Tunisia, the only other Arab country where the wave of protests sweeping the region has succeeded in toppling its dictatorship, to play a friendly dubbed "the revolutionists’ game" at a date yet to be determined. Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali fled last month into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The request to postpone the South Africa match follows an EFA decision to allow Cairo club Zamalek SC’s return match against Kenyan champions Ulinzi Stars on February 27 in Cairo, the first soccer match to be played since the protests erupted on January 25.
The CFA has been considering ordering the match to be played in Libya. That proposal is now off the table because of the anti-government protests wracking Libya that security forces are brutally seeking to suppress. At least 80 people have been killed by security forces in recent days.
Zamalek defeated the Stars 4:0 in Nairobi while many of its supporters back home joined the protests. Some Zamalek players and coaches participated in the demonstrations after returning to Egypt, suggesting the political tensions in the country were reverberating within the club. Zamalek board members this weekend sought to downplay their support for Mubarak, saying they too wanted change and an end to corruption.
EFA President Sami Zaher is scheduled to discuss a resumption of league matches this weekend with Premier League clubs.
Premier League team Ismaili warned that it may with draw from the CAF Confederation Cup if the Egyptian League is cancelled. The EFA earlier this week cancelled the Egypt Cup.
"The possible cancellation of the league could prompt us to drop out of the Confederation Cup," Ismaili club president Nasser Aboul-Hassan told FilGoal.com. "The same circumstances will be there when we have to play in Ismailia.
James M. Dorsey authors The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog