Three scenarios for the Egyptian League in the Port Said aftermath

Hatem Maher, Tuesday 6 Mar 2012

The fate of this season's Egyptian Premier League remains unclear in the wake of the Port Said disaster. Will it be cancelled or resumed?

Port Said disaster
Ahly players flee violence in Port Said (Photo: Reuters)

The possible resumption of the Egyptian Premier League has drawn mixed responses from football figures following the country's Port Said tragedy.

The country's worst football disaster left 74 fans killed and hundreds injured when thousands of Masry supporters invaded the pitch to confront Ahly's visiting fans immediately following the end of a league game on the first of February.

Naturally, there was little room for talks about football-related topics, including the league's future, given the country's state of mourning and the ongoing investigations to pinpoint the culprits amid widespread accusations of negligence against authorities.

However, more than a month following the disaster, a debate has surfaced over whether the league should be resumed.

Football-wise, it will be beneficial for most of the clubs and the Egyptian national team to resume domestic football activities.

Cairo duo Ahly and Zamalek may suffer from lack of action when they play their upcoming African Champions League games and the same applies to the national team, who are preparing for the qualifying campaigns of the Nations Cup and World Cup.

The financial aspect is equally important, with many clubs expected to incur huge losses if this season's league competition is cancelled. The majority of Premier League clubs had already faced serious financial problems before the disaster.

Media outlets, which blossomed during the past few years because of revenues from television ads and sponsorship deals, have also voiced concerns over the possibility of the competition being called off.

The following are three scenarios in the potential outcome of the ongoing debate:

League cancellation

It is the most likely option, given the major obstacles facing the possible resumption of the premier domestic competition.

Security concerns are still hovering over the country, with police repeatedly coming under fire for failing to restore order. The Port Said disaster has further tarnished their image after officers were videoed standing still as Masry fans attacked their Ahly counterparts.

The interior ministry is highly unlikely to give the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) the all-clear to resume the competition.

Technically speaking, the EFA would be forced to resort to a drawn-out league schedule that would do the players no favour if the competition is resumed.

"Resuming the league, which needs at least eight months to complete, is impossible," Ahly coach Manuel Jose said on the club's official website on Tuesday.

"What happened in Port Said also makes the matter more difficult. They did not even arrest the people who killed our fans. I suggest we start a new league season in July or August."

The majority of Ahly players support the possible cancellation of the league, saying they want the criminals of the Port Said disaster to be brought to justice first.

Behind closed doors

Another option might be holding the rest of the Premier League games behind closed doors to allay concerns over the prospects of more pitch invasions in a critical phase of Egypt's post-revolution era.

Although Egyptian football-mad fans deem it useless to resume the league without their presence in the stands, such an option will come as a major boost to the cash-strapped clubs who are struggling to pay their players.

Another suggestion that was put forward is allowing a limited number of spectators to attend the games, following the example set by fellow revolutionists Tunisia.

"It is important that we resume the league, we don't want life to stop. Everyone is affected by what happened in Port Said, but we should let the investigations take their normal process, which is a long one," Zamalek icon Hazem Emam, who is now a club board member, said in an interview with Al-Arabiya.

"Football activities must be resumed with security guarantees. We can play with a limited number of spectators or without spectators at all."

Resuming the league

The least likely scenario would be resuming the league with normal fan attendance.

Such a decision may face stiff opposition from many figures, who argue that it is not morally appropriate to kick-start the competition before the culprits of the Port Said disaster are brought to justice.

Egypt coach Bob Bradley endorses such an option, given his side's upcoming Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers.

The national team held a training camp in Qatar recently but Bradley would still find it difficult to choose the ideal squad for the Pharaohs without watching the players in regular league action.

However, whatever the technical or financial costs, the final verdict will be given by the security authorities that will determine which path to choose to avoid more clashes in such a critical phase. 

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter: @AO Sports)

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