The Port said tragedy left 74 fans killed and hundreds injured (Photo: Ahram)
The Egyptian Premier League 2011/2012 season has been called off in the wake of the country’s worst football disaster, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced on Saturday.
A friendly tournament, which was named the “martyrs competition” by the EFA, will be held instead. It will include 18 teams, who are divided into two groups, and will take place from 29 March to 18 May.
Masry, whose home match against Ahly on the first of February witnessed the infamous riots which left 74 fans killed, have been expelled from the tournament, which will be played behind closed doors.
“This tournament is aimed at lessening the effects of the league’s cancellation on the clubs and sponsors,” EFA spokesman Azmy Megahed told Ahram Sport.
“Some clubs initially objected to the proposal to cancel the league but they eventually accepted it after the interior ministry said it would not secure the matches.”
The EFA also said in a statement that the Egypt Cup, the country’s secondary domestic competition, will resume but the clubs will not be able to field their international players due to Egypt’s commitments in the African Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
It is the fifth time Egypt’s premier domestic competition is cancelled after the 1954/55, 1970/71, 1973/74 and 1989/90 seasons.
The EFA is expected to announce the sanctions it would impose on Masry in the next few days. Many football figures and pundits have called on the EFA’s interim board of directors, which took over following the resignation of the Samir Zaher-led board, to relegate the coastal club to a lower division.
It remains to be seen whether the majority of the Premier League clubs would be able to cope with the aftermath of the league’s cancellation, given their persistent financial problems.
Ahly, whose players are still traumatized following the tragedy, have publicly endorsed plans to call off the season.
Veteran players such as Mohamed Barakat and Mohamed Abou-Treika said they would not play any competitive matches unless the culprits are brought to justice.
Zamalek, Ahly’s Cairo rivals, are one of the cash-strapped clubs who regularly struggle to pay their players, some of whom threatened to depart in the last few months including in-form striker Amr Zaki.
However, chairman Mamdouh Abbas, a wealthy businessman and a lifelong Zamalek supporter, insisted the club would hold onto their players.
“I support the league’s cancellation due to the hard times Egypt is enduring. We will keep our players, we will neither sell nor loan out anyone,” he said.
“We are determined to continue our campaign in the African Champions League.”
Zamalek are the only Egyptian club to play competitive football since the Port Said disaster, having beaten Tanzania’s Young Africans 2-1 on aggregate in the Champions League preliminary round.
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