BASKETBALL fans will have the chance to watch some quality matches when Cairo hosts the African Women’s Basketball Cup.
The 2019 FIBA Africa Women’s Champions Cup, the continent’s premier event for women’s clubs, is scheduled to be held in Cairo from 6 to 15 December.
The nine-day event will be held at the Cairo International Stadium indoor complex. According to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the association running world basketball, the event is a historic moment for Egyptian women’s basketball as it is the first time ever in the 34-year-old history of the event that the tournament will be hosted in the land of the Pharaohs.
Egypt is one of the oldest members of FIBA, being affiliated in 1934. The North African country has hosted several international competitions including the FIBA U-19 World Cup in 2017 in Cairo as well as FIBA Afro Basket editions right from the inaugural back in 1962 through to 1992 and 2003 in Alexandria.
This year, Cairo Stadium Indoor complex hosted the African second round qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup as well as several other tournaments.
The reigning champions Ferroviario de Maputo of Mozambique automatically qualify for the event while hosts Egypt will be represented by two clubs – Ahly of Cairo and Sporting Club from Alexandria.
Egyptian giants Ahly are confident they will challenge for the title as they play at home. Playing in front of their fans, the Egyptians have vowed to throw everything that they have at this competition to become the first team from their country to lift the trophy.
Only one North African side has ever won the continental competition dating back to 1995 when Stade Tunisien defeated AS Bopp from Senegal in the Tunisian capital Tunis. The event has been dominated by sub-Saharan African teams for the last 24 editions.
The Egyptian trio of Soraya Degheidi, Nouralla Abdel-Alim and Hala Al-Shaarawi, who recently won the FIBA 3x3 Africa Cup in Uganda, and who all play in Ahly, are looking to lead their team to the African cup.
In an exclusive interview with FIBA.basketball, Ahly’s Degheidi explained that Egyptian women’s basketball is on the rise and hosting this tournament was very timely for them.
“We want to show everyone that Egypt is coming as everyone can see in the last two tournaments how fast we have improved. It is about our team spirit. If we are not as professional as the other African players, we have our hearts and spirit,” Degheidi told FIBA.
“We are excited to play at home in front of our families, friends and supporters but that increases the pressure that we do not want to let anyone go home sad. We want to win all our games especially because Ahly has many fans and they know nothing but winning,” the Egyptian prodigy added.
Degheidi emphasised, “we want to win this competition. There is no other option. All the three players that won the 3x3 Africa Cup are from Ahly and we took the trophy home so I think we are confident enough to take this championship because we already know how to do it.”
The 24-year-old shooting guard, who came through the Egypt U-16 and U-18 teams, has come of age and her fighting spirit along with her skills stand out at any competition she goes to, but this time, a lot more is at stake.
“This is the moment to show the basketball fraternity that Egyptian women can do the job too and what better place to do that than at home.
“Playing at home brings pressure sometimes but actually I am okay with it. I have played in front of so many fans here and it is so nice to hear the supporters calling: ‘Go Soraya’. It makes me happy that they are waiting for me to get the win,” Degheidi said.
According to FIBA, Ahly will rely on Degheidi’s individual brilliance but Abdel-Alim and Al-Shaarawi’s presence in the paint will come in handy in their quest to conquer Africa — a tall order in itself.
While Egyptian teams like Ahly are eyeing the cup and are determined to put an end to the dominance of the Angolan and Mozambican squads, other African teams share the same ambitions as the reigning champions Ferroviario de Maputo and the five-time record winners InterClube who will be seeking to win their first title since 2016.
The other nine teams to take part in the competition are Air Warrior of Nigeria, ASB Makomeno of DR Congo, City Hornets of Zimbabwe, Energie of Benin, FAP of Cameroon, Inter Clube of Angola, JKL of Uganda, Kenya Ports Authority and Mountain of Fine Ministry of Nigeria. The other slot goes to a wild card.
InterClube remain the most decorated side with five titles won in 2010, 2011 2013, 2014 and 2016.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.