By James M. Dorsey
A prominent Egyptian soccer executive has warned that cancellation of the country’s Premier League in the wake of last weekend’s invasion of the pitch during an African championship match could bankrupt the sport.
Khaled Mortagey, a board member of Al Ahly SC, Egypt’s most popular club told BBC Sport that already financial troubled clubs “would go out of business if they cancelled the league. It's a very irresponsible decision from responsible people if they cancel the league—or postpone it even more. Not just the football clubs in Egypt could go bankrupt but all the sports in Egypt because football is the main source of revenue to fund other sports,” Mortagey said.
Plans to revive the league in mid-April after a three-month suspension to prevent the pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point were put on hold after militant supporters of Al Ahly arch rival Al Zamalek SC stormed the pitch in the last minutes of their teams crucial African championship match against Tunisia’s Club Africain. The fans disagreed with the referee’s decision to disqualify as offside a goal that would have secured Zamalek the two-point lead it needed to advance in the tournament.
Egyptian Football Association Samir Zaher initially said the league may be cancelled as a result of the incident. In a statement released later on the EFA’s website, Zaher was quoted as saying that the EFA was considering reviving the league behind closed doors or inside military camps.
Major Egyptian sports clubs such as Al Ahly and Zamalek fund a variety of sports with income from football.
"How can you survive without having revenue streams? We have 19 different sports at Al Ahly, and the revenue of the sports other than football is zero. Yet, these other sports are the ones that bring on the players onto their national teams. So you're talking about all the sports in Egypt collapsing," Motrtagey said.
Egypt’s political turmoil has highlighted legal and structural issues that prevent Egyptian soccer clubs with few exceptions from becoming financially independent. The Egyptian parliament prior to the anti-government demonstrations that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office was looking at allowing clubs, who are legally, non-profit organizations to establish commercial companies, which would allow them to value their assets and engage in merchandising.
There were similar moves to remove legal obstacles that prevent the EFA and clubs from properly marketing broadcast rights. This would have included depriving Egyptian authorities of the exclusive right to license anyone broadcasting from Egypt as well as the right to broadcast anything from Egyptian soil.
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