Nelson Mandela once said “sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” That was a time when South Africa badly needed something to bring them together as one after apartheid times.
And it’s true, over the years leaders have used sports (football in particular) to drive their agendas home. Sportsmen especially footballers have used their talents and the sport itself to changes lives of those they care about.
On January 8th, 2018 Egypt were offered an opportunity of a lifetime by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to unite a country that has seen violence dominate the football community. Hosting the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations is “a kiss of life to Egypt” according to football journalist Tarek Talaat. Why does Tarek think, 2019 AFCON is a kiss of life to Egyptian football.
In 2015 the Telegraph reported that Egypt had lost close to 72 football fans and hundreds left injured after Al Masry defeated Al Ahly 3-2 in Port Said. After the final whistle Al-Masry fans violently attacked Al-Ahly fans using knives, swords, clubs, stones, bottles, and fireworks as weapons.
Many of the deaths were due to the police’s refusal to open the stadium gates, trapping the Ahly fans inside, leaving some to die, and killing others in a stampede to escape. Despite that decision, in 2015, twenty-two people died as thousands of fans tried to force their way into a Cairo football stadium to watch a league game between Zamalek and Enbi. The incidence prompted the Egyptian government to postpone the Egyptian Premier League indefinitely.
“With all that the Egyptian fans didn’t lose their passion for football, and with the AFCON fans will get back into the stadium and it will be a good experience.” “It’s a big challenge for the organizers and government to make sure the fans coming for the games do go on without any trouble,” Tarek added.
It will be the first time Egypt is hosting the tournament since 2006 when they also won their fifth title beating Ivory Coast on spot kicks after extra time. Ahmed Marwan is a Pharmacist and Biotechnologist but also the operations and business development manager at www.kingfut.com, he says a lot has changed about Egypt since 2006.
“A lot has changed since 2006, I would say back then there was more passion to supporting football teams but now the passion is not the same. But surely there is more to understanding the game as contrary to the past years.”
“The country itself is much more developed now, the infrastructure will help us host the tournament and facilities will give all teams equal conditions to compete for the title,” Ahmed added.
And just like Tarek and Hossam, Ahmed believes the tournament will unite Egyptian football fans again after the past unfortunate incidences. “Hosting the tournament means a lot. Fans are not allowed to stadiums on regular basis for many years and now that we have this tournament it surely means the end of this long tenure of absence.”
“Everyone believes that after the Africa Cup of Nations the fans will return to watch league matches regularly at stadiums. Egyptians believe we can win the title as we have won it 3 times out of 4 we’ve hosted so everyone’s just looking forward to it,” he said.
Another Egyptian journalist who is the chief of editors at MySoccer24.com Ayman Atef believes the transition from 2006 to 2019 almost damaged the country’s history and heritage that has existed for over 7000 years. The 2006 edition was the crown pearl of an era about to end, 2019 is the title of the coming era with all the challenges according to Atef who also believes Egypt has what it takes to create a world cup experience.
“Like 2006 was an iconic version, 2019 will take Africa to the atmosphere of a World Cup festival event,” noted the performance analyst who is also into sports marketing.
If there is anything Egypt boasts about, that’s the state of the art stadium, the excellent road network and accommodation, not to mention the sights and sounds. The Borj Al Arab Stadium in Alexandria is the biggest in Egypt with a sitting capacity of 86,000 fans, it has been used as the home of the Pharoahs and Al- Masry Sports Club.
Then the 75,000 Cairo International Stadium that also the national team uses occasionally, but the home of Al Ahly and Zamalek SC, the biggest teams in the country. Those are just two of the many stadiums littered all over the country.
“I believe Afcon will kick politics out of the game, but government will also use the tournament to market the country then people can know that Egypt is ready for touristic activities again as before 2011,” Hady Elmedany who writes for the leading portal www.yallakora.com told us.
This year’s competition will be the first to be played between June and July after a long time, the 24 teams and six groups will be spread across five cities which include Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Suez.