CAIRO: A little over a year ago, in February 2010, millions of jubilant Egyptians celebrated the national football team’s triumph at the African Cup, winning its third consecutive title in an unprecedented achievement.
For Egyptians, football has always been a source of pride and solace amidst economic and political hardships; emotions that were heightened by the successive victories of national teams and clubs on the continental and international levels.
But after the youth-led revolution that toppled the ruling regime and revived a sense of national belonging, football may no longer be "the unrivaled queen" and its icons may no longer be seen as national heroes, says sports critic Yasser Ayoub.
"Football lost its fake glamour and pseudo-political role. Now, Egyptians have other priorities and have found other reasons to wave the national flag, [more worthy than] a football match," Ayoub says.
Since demonstrations started on Jan. 25, all sport activities were frozen except for local friendly and continental club matches.
However, this didn’t stop for calls to issue a long-delayed new sports law, the return of the Sports and Youth Ministry to replace the National Sports Council (NSC) and more efficient financial monitoring regulations.
"The revolution’s effect on sports is massive because sports in Egypt can’t be run in the same old way again. People will feel the change once sport activities resume," says Ayoub.
Change according to Ayoub, will encompass everything starting with the country’s sports management structure, heads of local club, football players and even the fan sub-culture.
There has always been a close link between sports, politics and business. Political and business figures held leadership posts at clubs and sports federations, casting a shadow on the exploitation of the public’s passion for sports to serve private interests and opening the doors wide for corruption.
Mohamed Abdel Monsef, goalkeeper of both the national team and Al-Gouna, says that he has personally suffered from the current halt in sports activities because his income has suddenly stopped, but he adds that he is willing to accept this sacrifice for the sake of "a fresh new start".
He recently started a campaign to "expose corruption in sports to bring in fresh blood" out of a belief that the main players in every field and profession must work for its welfare.
"People were happy with football victories but this isn’t everything; we were missing a lot of things concerning regulations and management and we suffered a lot from people who exploited their posts without benefiting sports as a whole," he told DNE.
Of the tens of complaints filed to the Prosecutor General since president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb 11, some targeted the former head of the Egyptian Olympic Committee, Mounir Thabet, the former First Lady Suzanne Mubarak’s brother, accusing him of involvement in the illegal sale of public sector companies and illegal land acquisitions.
Al-Ahly club’s president Hassan Hamdy and board member Mahmoud Al-Khatib are also accused of exploiting their positions in Al-Ahram advertising agency for personal gain, while Samir Zaher, head of the Egyptian Football Federation, faces accusations of squandering public funds.
In Alexandria, a campaign against Al-Ittihad club’s president and National Democratic Party (NDP) MP, Mohamed Meselhy, led him and other board members to resign.
"Club heads mustn’t remain in their posts for more than two terms and sports federations should no longer be managed as if they were private property and the ‘appointment’ of journalists in media committees to cover-up for them must stop," Ayoub said.
He fears a tendency towards maintaining the status quo, even though he believes that many will eventually be forced to resign due to public and media pressure.
Since its establishment in 2005, the Supreme Sports Council has been the subject of heated debate regarding its ambiguous mandate, sparking international concerns over governmental interference in sports.
"Egypt is one of a handful of countries where sports are still run by the government and this must change," Ayoub says.
A new sports law, according to Mosa’ad Eweis, chairman of the Sports Professions Syndicate, can resolve this dilemma.
"The new law can clarify the vague relationship between clubs and federations, distinguish between amateurs and professionals, and bring unregulated sports phenomena under control," Eweis says.
The proposed draft law addresses issues like sports investments, criminalizing doping, establishing a sports arbitration court and regulating professional sports.
The Egyptian Handball Federation was the first to apply a professional league. Despite its popularity, football currently applies a semi-professional league and is required by FIFA to transfer its league into a full-fledged professional one next year.
The current system has always come under severe criticism for its under-regulated mechanisms regarding player transfers and sponsorship deals as well as the fact that professional sports are managed by amateur administrations.
"People always criticize us for our high salaries but as a player, I get no protection in my contract because regulations aren’t implemented and it all depends on your connections," says goalkeeper Abdel Monsef.
According to Ayoub, a more regulated environment and less government interference mean the absence of police, military and business-affiliated clubs, privatization of clubs and lower paychecks for football players to the benefit of other sports.
A broader vision
"Football can finance itself; it is time to give other sports more attention," says Eweis.
He called for a national program to discover young talents in various sports and integrating sports in national development plans through promoting the culture of practicing sports as a human right.
"The Olympic committee must be in charge of sponsoring future champions, nurturing them and coaches of national teams through development and training programs," he says.
Some sports, like bodybuilding, which was sponsored by NDP leader and steel mogul Ahmed Ezz who is currently in police custody pending investigation, and squash, sponsored by former president Mubarak, may now face a major funding crisis, says Ayoub.
Sports media will also be gripped by a wave of change, says Ayoub. “Many reporters may not be able to continue working in this new atmosphere, but those who don’t change will disappear.”
After the youth-led revolution that toppled the ruling regime and revived a sense of national belonging, football may no longer be "the unrivaled queen" and its icons may no longer be seen as national heroes.