A majority of troubled Alexandria soccer club Ittihad al-Skandarya’s players have boycotted training for the second time in a month in protest against not having been paid for three months.
The protest comes as the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) meets in emergency session to discuss the fallout of political and financial turmoil that forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign, according to Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com.
Players refused to train earlier this month after the club failed to pay their house rents. Ittihad has an EGP 930,000 ($156,000) a month player payroll.
Demonstrators forced the chairman of Ittihad, a member of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and three of the club’s board members to resign in early March because of Ittihad’s poor performance in the league. The board members were the first casualties of fans flexing the muscles of their newly found people power.
The latest protest comes amid controversy over an EFA proposal to introduce financial austerity by capping transfer prices as well as salaries for players and coaches. The EFA has called an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss the crisis in Egyptian soccer following the title defender and seven-time champion’s defeat by South Africa last weekend in a key African qualifier.
Players and coaches have rejected the EFA’s call for a cap on salaries, but fans have endorsed the proposal. Premier League team Ismailia SC coach Mark Wotte has called on his club’s supporters in the business community to help cope with the financial crisis. Ismailia has not been able to pay several of its players.
The club’s ultras, the Yellow Dragons, have threatened to boycott its matches if it fails to cap salaries.
“Where are the businessmen supporting the club? The financial issues are negatively affecting the team and the players need to have their wages paid in time,” Wotte said.
Egyptian soccer’s financial plight is likely to encourage a restructuring of club ownership in line with proposals put forward by world soccer body FIFA that would significantly reduce government involvement. Half of Egypt’s 16 Premier League clubs are owned by government institutions, the military or the police.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer