Egyptian FA faces political dilemma as anticipated sanctions on Masry loom
Many expected that the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) would be spurred into an instant action following the Port Said tragedy which left 74 fans killed on the first of February.
Around six weeks following the disaster, Port Said-based club Masry remain unscathed.
The EFA seems at a loss about how to take the appropriate measures that would neither infuriate Masry’s die-hard supporters nor ignite an angry response from Ahly’s hardcore fans (Ultras Ahlawy), who vowed not to accept any leniency over Egypt’s worst football disaster.
Seventy-five people, including the security chief in Port Said, were referred to the criminal court last week to face trial after thousands of Masry fans stormed the pitch to confront Ahly’s visiting supporters following the end of an Egyptian Premier League game, sparking deadly clashes that sent shockwaves across the football-mad country.
That decision may have alleviated some of the Ultras Ahlawy anger but they still eagerly await the football sanctions the EFA is expected to impose on Masry amid a heated debate over whether the club should be relegated to a lower division.
Pundits say the EFA’s procrastination in punishing Masry has given the club a respite they desperately needed to avoid possible dire consequences that would throw their future into doubt.
The EFA was widely criticised for failing to take a swift decision, with some contrasting their stance to that of European governing body UEFA when the infamous Heysel Stadium disaster occurred on 29 May 1985 just before the start of the Champions League final between Liverpool and Juventus.
The tragedy, which left 39 Juventus fan dead and hundreds injured, prompted UEFA to initially ban English clubs for an indefinite period on 2 June.
It is the other way round in the Port Said case.
Observers say lack of immediate EFA action allowed some Port Said-based Members of Parliament to voice their disgruntlement with what they deem “harsh treatment” of the coastal city. They insisted more than once they would not accept that Masry become a “scapegoat”.
“We call on Egypt’s intellectuals and faithful media personnel to stand up against the tendentious campaign to drive a wedge between the residents of Port Said and Cairo and completely isolate Port Said,” the city’s six MPs said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“We fully respect Ahly’s board of directors and fans ... there will never be any hard feelings between Port Said and Ahly.
“The Port Said residents are leading calls for the punishment of the culprits. However, they fully reject any attempts to wipe out the name of Masry from Egyptian football.
“Accordingly, we will not accept any excessive sanctions that will be considered as a collective punishment for the city and the club,” the statement read.
Two of the six MPs were highly critical of Ahly, incurring the wrath of many Red Devils supporters.
Akram El-Shaer implicitly accused Ahly fans of inciting the violence by lifting a banner that mocked Port Said while El-Badry Farghaly angrily said he would “exploit the corruption of Ahly’s board of directors and their chairman, Hassan Hamdy”.
The EFA said on Wednesday it would announce the sanctions on Masry next week, but declined to give more details.
Tensions between the supporters of Masry and Ahly have been on the rise since the disaster, with both sides hurling accusations against each others despite several attempts by many figures to cool them down.
Masry fans staged several demonstrations in Port Said and stirred controversy when they lifted an Israeli flag, writing on it “they imprisoned my family and brothers for the sake of Ahly”.
Ahly supporters were equally active in Cairo, holding repeated marches to call for justice.
Given the vagueness of regulations dealing with football riots, the EFA’s interim board of directors is likely to struggle to impose any sanctions without risking a hostile reaction from Masry’s football-mad fans.
Anwar Saleh has become a stop-gap EFA chairman following the resignation of Samir Zaher, who bowed to pressure to step down after seven years in office.
“Concerning Masry’s sanctions, several considerations will be discussed before any decision is made, because the situation deserves a political decision, which is beyond the FA's authority,” Zaher said in a television interview last week.
“I ask National Sports Council head Emad El-Bannani to sit down with some football figures and consult them over the appropriate measures the EFA should take in that issue.”
Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri has already held a meeting involving El-Bannani, interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim, Port Said MPs and Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy in an attempt to resolve the crisis.
El-Ganzouri was quoted as saying by local media that the sanctions on Masry “should neither be lenient nor excessive”, apparently violating the statutes of world governing body FIFA which prohibit political interference in football.
FIFA said on Wednesday the agenda of its executive committee meeting on 29 and 30 March will include discussions about the Port Said disaster.
The EFA’s looming sanctions on Masry are expected to range from ordering the club to play many of their home games outside Port Said to demoting them to a lower division. They might be also banned for one year, according to local reports.
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