The Egyptian government has authorized the restart of the country’s premier soccer league after clubs warned that the continued suspension since January threatened to bankrupt them.
The authorization, following a meeting between Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and senior sports officials, comes two days after the government had cancelled plans to restart the league because of last weekend’s disruption by militant fans of an African championship match in the Cairo International Stadium between crowned Al Zamalek SC and Tunisia’s Club Africain.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) said matches would begin on April 13 and fans would be allowed to attend. The government had been considering banning fans from the matches after hundreds of militant Zamalek supporters stormed the pitch destroying everything in their path and attacking the Algerian referee and players.
The government said on its Facebook page that all "necessary security measures to be taken to organise the competition," but gave no further details.
Zamalek chairman Galal Ibrahim welcomes the EFA decision. “The return of the league is the right decision. Calling the season off would have caused us a lot of financial trouble that could lead us to bankruptcy. Zamalek are one of the clubs who could have suffered dearly from such an end to the season, because most of our revenues come from football,” Ibrahim told Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com.
Professional soccer matches were suspended in late January when anti-government protests erupted and forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February after 30 years in office.
The pitch invasion has soured historically tense Algerian-Egyptian football relations.
Algerian Football Association (AFA) president Mohamed Raouraoua has asked the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to no longer assign Algerian referees to Egyptian matches after the referee in last weekend’s match was beaten by the Zamalek fans.
“Egyptian supporters are always tense towards Algerian referees, so I asked to exclude them from refereeing games in Egypt, whether for the clubs or national teams,” Raouraoua was quoted as saying by Algerian newspaper Elkhabar.
Raouraoua blamed Zamalek coach Hossam Hassan and controversial Zamalek board member Ibrahim Hassan for inciting the attacks. “That tension was clear when the twins, Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan, severely attacked CAF for appointing an Algerian referee for the game,” he said.
Egypt and Algeria have a history of soccer-related violence that has at times soured their diplomatic relations. Riots erupted in late 2010 after Algeria beat Egypt, squashing its hopes of reaching the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer