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Friday, 25 September 2020

Virus on the loose

No sooner had Egyptian football restarted than clubs were overwhelmed by the huge number of Covid-19 cases, leaving the league’s future in doubt

Marawan Elshafei, Tuesday 11 Aug 2020
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The Egyptian Premier League resumed last week after an almost five-month stoppage due to the coronavirus. In the first match to be played, Zamalek faced Masri on Friday and secured three points with a 1-0 victory, however, the big news was not football related. Two days after the match, Masri confirmed 16 Covid-19 cases on the team, including the coach Tarek Al-Ashri.

Al-Ashri expressed frustration over the resumption of matches after testing positive on Sunday. “We should not wait for a catastrophe to happen in order to cancel the league. We should’ve avoided the risks from the beginning. Now you have Masri and before there were also cases at Entag Al-Harbi,” Al-Ashri told a local radio show.

“We have a small number of players because Masri is banned from registering new ones. There are only 12 or 13 players on the squad and the rest are from the youth teams,” he added.

“The problem is that the authorities are not dealing firmly enough with the pandemic. They only take it seriously when there is a high number of Covid-19 cases.”

Before the restart of the league, the Egyptian Football Association stated explicitly it would not postpone any match, citing the many months the league was forced to hibernate because of the pandemic.

The news came just hours after Misr Al-Makassa announced they had determined three positive cases on the team, with key players Amr Marei and Mohamed Mosaad being among them. The club’s team doctor Amin Refaat also contracted the virus as the trio was immediately isolated upon receiving the test results from the Egyptian Football Association.

Al-Makassa beat Aswan 2-1 on Saturday after the Egyptian Premier League’s return since mid-March.

Meanwhile, Haras Al-Hodoud manager Mohamed Halim has said that they were shocked to hear the EFA’s decision not to postpone their clash against Masri.

Masri were set to take on Haras Al-Hodoud in their second game since the return of the league.

However, less than 24 hours before their encounter, the Port Said side revealed that its 16 members of the squad had tested positive for coronavirus, including 12 unnamed players.

Following Masri’s announcement, the EFA released a statement saying that the game will not be postponed, a decision that surprised many, including Halim.

“We were shocked by the EFA’s decision to not postpone the match,” Halim told Zamalek TV.

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“The players are now worried following the announcement that the game against Masri will be played on Monday as scheduled.”

Haras Al-Hodoud are currently 12th in the table with 19 points after 17 games played.

The EFA responded to the incident by saying they will allow Masri to undergo additional PCR tests to ensure that their game against Haras Al-Hodoud is not postponed.

“The EFA decided to allow Masri to undergo PCR tests for players who had not taken previous tests to give the team’s technical staff the opportunity to compensate for the absence of those who were diagnosed as positive,” the EFA said in a statement.

“The matches will take place as stated in the announced schedule because the large number of positive test results at one club was the result of a failure to follow the necessary precautionary measures.”

The results of the swabs conducted in the early hours of Monday 3 August on Masri players confirmed the positive cases. The swabs are conducted as part of tests for the Masri players and others.

The federation’s medical committee sent its approval of the results of the new tests to the committee in charge of managing the affairs of the federation. The medical team called on the competition’s management to postpone the Masri match due to a lack of time, “as it was scheduled to be held after a few hours, provided that a new date for the match will be set later”. It said the postponement includes a single match – “today’s match while the rest will be played on the specified and announced dates”.

The decision was taken after the medical committee’s request to consider in the future the delay of matches for teams suffering from mass infections of the coronavirus. The committee determined that the number of cases infected on the team exceeded 10 players officially registered, provided that the cases are officially approved by the medical committee.

The committee also called on all teams to be careful to follow the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and not to be complacent in their application in order to safeguard the safety of the players and members of the technical and support services, and also to protect everyone’s interest during the resumption of the league competition.

It is still not clear whether the league will continue or be postponed once again as Egypt might face a second wave of the coronavirus this month. Truth be told, many of the league’s players, managers and club board members are not following the virus health guidelines to try and stop the spread of the virus among themselves.

At the same time, Ahly maintained their unbeaten run after securing a 2-0 victory against Enppi on Sunday.

Ahly, the defending champions, are in first place with 52 points from 18 games and 16 games left. Arch-rivals Zamalek are in second with 34 points and 17 matches played.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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