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Egyptian Soccer Clubs Urge Speedy Resumption of Suspended League (Updated)

Egypt’s major soccer clubs have urged the country’s football federation to quickly lift its month-old suspension of professional league matches imposed at the outset of anti-government protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The soccer clubs made their demand known in a meeting to discuss the 2010-2011 season with Egyptian Football Association (EFA) President Sami Zaher that was attended by 14 of the Premier League’s 16 members. The conclusions of the meeting, published on the EFA’s website, made clear that the Egyptian military, which is running the country since Mubarak’s forced resignation earlier this month, would have the final say in deciding when the Premier League would be restarted. The EFA said the clubs had requested the restart of the league “in arrangement with the country’s authorities.” To compensate for the fact that teams have not trained and played for a month, the clubs asked the EFA to annul for the current season any potential relegation. A proposal to restart the league behind closed doors and ban spectators in a bid to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a rallying point for anti-government protests is likely to prove to the most controversial measure under consideration. The proposal, originally tabled by the EFA prior to Mubarak’s ousting, highlighted the political fissures within the association, particularly between the Cairo powerhouses and bitter arch rivals, Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek. Al Zamalek, which traces its roots to the British colonial administration in the early part of the 20th century favoured the proposal, which in effect supported Mubarak’s effort to create a semblance of normalcy despite the turmoil, while Al Ahly, rooted in Egypt’s nationalist politics, opposed it in line with the opposition’s rejection of the embattled Egyptian’s attempts to undermine the protests. The clubs called in the first indication of the impact of Egypt’s transition away from dictatorship on soccer for a limit on transfer prices and salaries. Economic reform is likely to mean soccer privatization in the longer term with half of the Premier League teams owned by the government or the military and a degree of austerity in the short term as Egypt seeks to recover from the economic cost of the revolt. Fanatical supporters of the Ismaili, the financially troubled soccer club of the port city of Ismailia, responded almost immediately to the proposed, cap on salaries by announcing they would boycott the team’s matches in protest of the high wages paid to footballers, according to the Egyptian soccer website The Ismaili ultras dubbed the Yellow Dragons announced their boycott as the club was seeking to reach agreement with star midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabou who is reportedly demanding an unprecedented $850,000 in a country where half the population lives off $2 or less a day. Ismaili chairman Nasr Aboul-Hassan welcomed the demand by the ultras, saying that all Premier League clubs should introduce a fixed budget for players’ salaries. “Things cannot be the same in football after the revolution. There must be a limit for the millions spent on footballers by club boards. I suggest that each club should pay a maximum of EGP 20million ($3.4 million) per season on players’ wages,” Aboul-Hassan said.

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