Tunisia has agreed to lift a ban on professional soccer matches, a day after the Egyptian government authorized the restart of the country’s Premier League to save clubs from bankruptcy.
League matches in Tunisia and Egypt were suspended in January to prevent the pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point amid mass anti-government demonstrations that in January toppled Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a month later.
Authorities in both countries were reluctant to restart professional matches because of continued political unrest.
That reluctance was initially reinforced after militant fans of crowned Cairo stormed the pitch last Saturday during their team’s crucial African championship match against Tunisia’s Club Africain.
Fears that clubs may go bankrupt as a result of the prolonged suspension ultimately swayed the authorities in both countries to authorize the resumption of league matches. In the past months, authorities had only allowed African qualifiers.
Tunisia’s league will resume on April 13 and Egypt’s on April 13.
Tunisia had initially authorized a restart last month but then backed down on its decision because of security fears. Egypt initially reversed its decision on Sunday after the storming the pitch to allow a revival on the league, but ultimately backed down two days later under pressure from the clubs.
The financial health of clubs also persuaded authorities in Tunisia and Egypt to drop suggestions that the leagues be allowed to resume only behind closed doors because this would have deprived the clubs of ticket revenues. Authorities in Egypt said there would be “necessary” security at matches.
Saturday’s storming of the pitch occurred because police had been virtually absent to avoid a clash with fans.
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