Egyptian Premier League called off in wake of football violence
Al-Ahly fans take part in a protest (top) against the ruling military council and the Ministry of Interior following the Port Said incident (bottom) which killed 74 people. REUTERS PhotoThe Egyptian Football Association has canceled the rest of this season’s league matches in the wake of rioting at a match last month that killed 74 people and injured hundreds of others.
The Egyptian Premier League was suspended less than halfway through the season after the deadly stampede on Feb. 1 in Port Said following a match between Al-Masry and defending champion Al-Ahly.
The Premier League has been cancelled with 19 games remaining. Haras El Hedoud was top of the 19-team table after 17 matches, one point ahead of Al Ahly.
Egyptian FA spokesman Azmy Megahed said on March 10 the season will not resume because there is not enough time to play the games before the national team is expected to begin training for the 2013 African Cup qualifiers and this year’s London Olympics.
A number of Al-Ahly players have said they would not have played anyway due to low morale and because no one has yet been brought to justice for the bloodshed.
Spokesman Megahed said that 18 teams, divided into two groups, will play in a friendly tournament in empty stadiums. Megahed had earlier suggested that the tournament would help raise money for families of those killed in the violence, but on Saturday he told The Associated Press that it would be played primarily to appease sponsors.
Al-Masry, which hosted the Feb. 1 game, will not play.
Last month Egypt’s African Nations Cup qualifier against the Central African Republic was also postponed. “I am not against the league cancelation but I want to know: Will we we take part in the upcoming edition of the CAF Champions League,” Tarek El-Ashry, coach of surprise leader Harras El-Hodoud, told Ahram Sport on Saturday.
The Port Said tragedy highlighted deteriorating security in the Arab world’s most populous country as instability continues nearly a year after former President Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in a popular uprising. It was the worst case of football violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996.
The violence began when fans Al-Masry rushed the field following a win over Egypt’s top club setting off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene.
Egypt’s lawmakers are currently investigating who was behind the deadly violence, which underscored the role of “ultras” football fans in Egypt’s recent protest movement. Organized fans, known as ultras, have played an important role in the revolution and rallies against military rule. Their anti-police songs, peppered with curses, have quickly become viral and an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward security forces that were accused of much of the abuse that was widespread under Mubarak’s regime.