Cash rewards for Egypt's team following World Cup qualification spark debate over state finances

Ahram Online , Tuesday 10 Oct 2017

Following Egypt's World Cup qualifying victory on Sunday, Egyptian news outlets reported that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had ordered EGP 1.5 million cash payments for each player

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on October 9, 2017 shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi honouring players of his country's national football AFP

The joy surrounding Egypt's qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been clouded by a debate over the wisdom of handing each team member an EGP1.5 million reward, as ordered by President Abdel-Fattah shortly after the match.

The debate started shortly after Egypt's crucial 2-1 win over Congo on Sunday night, when Egyptian media announced that El-Sisi had ordered the cash payments in gratitude for the sporting victory.

Although the news reports did not quote the president or provide an official source for the story, they nonetheless sparked a debate over where the money for such rewards would be found, bearing in mind the nation's current dire economic situation.

Just hours after Egypt qualified for its first World Cup in 28 years, fierce debate erupted on social media and TV talk shows, with many sports fans criticizing the president's decision. Various officials have since weighed in, seeking to calm tempers and respond to concerns over the potential harm that such payments might do to the nation's finances.

The 2014 World Cup generated $4.8 billion in revenue for FIFA compared to $2.2 billion in expenses. Over the four-year cycle, the event turned a $2.6 billion profit. Teams who played the world cup gained directly from FiFA a minimum of 15 million dollars (260 million LE). 

On Sunday, an anonymous source at the finance ministry told Al-Masry Al-Youm news website that the state budget would not bear the cost of the payments.

The 2014 World Cup generated $4.8 billion in revenue for FIFA compared to $2.2 billion in expenses. Over the four-year cycle, the event turned a $2.6 billion profit.

However, he pointed to cash payments that would be made to the team as a whole by FIFA and various sponsors.

"The rewards paid by FIFA and the national team uniform sponsors can reach up to EGP 75 million, which will go directly to the team and won't be even included in the state's budget," the official said.

"The Ministry of Youth and Sports will regulate the distribution of these rewards," he added.

The same day, the debate was joined by Hani Abo Rida, president of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), during an appearance on a sports talk show.

The ONTV presenter said that millions of viewers had requested clarification on the matter, with Abo Rida replying that the rewards would not come from the state budget, adding that any news reports claiming otherwise were "false".

"Do you imagine that President El-Sisi can allocate EGP 1.5 million reward for each player, especially in such circumstances? Of course, this news is totally false," he said.

"This reward will be paid only by sponsors and businessmen who support our national team and have nothing to do with the state budget."

The EFA president ventured to expalin El-Sisi's intentions, suggesting that he had been attempting to drum up support from the business community.

"You could say that President El-Sisi wanted to push investors and businessmen to pay a big reward for our national team, which they deserve in appreciation of their achievement. But of course, as I said, not from the state budget."

FIFA is set pay $2.5 million (around EGP 44 million) to each of the 32 teams that qualify for the 2018 World Cup, helping them prepare for the tournament, which takes place in Russia next summer.

Egypt qualified for the competition on Sunday night by beating Congo 2-1 in a gripping match at Alexandria's Borg El-Arab Stadium, putting them top of Group E with one game in hand. Egypt became the second African team to secure a place in the World Cup, the other being Nigeria, with three more African sides yet to qualify from the group stage.

The debate over rewards for players comes amid ongoing concerns over the state of Egypt's economy, which has seen steep consumer inflation.

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