Opposition to an Egyptian Football Association (EFA) proposal to cap transfer pricing and players’ salaries constitutes a shot across the bow of mounting pressure to radically reform Egyptian soccer. Ibrahim Hassan, an outspoken board member of Al Zamalek SC, one of the most storied and crowned clubs in the Egyptian Premier League, and Amr Zaki, a striker for the club, have publicly rejected the proposal announced by the EFA on Sunday after a meeting with representatives of the country’s top clubs. “I totally reject this option. Controlling wages and contracts has no place in the world of professional football,” Zaki told Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com. Hassan echoed Zaki’s position, arguing that “since players vary in their standards, it is logic that wages are also variable. It is a supply-and-demand situation… Every player is worth what he deserves.” The EFA effort to cap transfer pricing and salaries in a bid to stymie spiralling demands by players constitutes a first step towards austerity in Egyptian soccer prompted by the economic fallout of mass protests that earlier this month ended the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak and pressure from FIFA, soccer’s world body. The proposal was welcomed almost within hours of Sunday’s meeting by Nasr Aboul-Hassan, chairman of Ismailia SC, who suggested 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. Ismaili’s ultras, the Yellow Dragons, threatened boycott their team’s matches if the club failed to cap players’ salaries. Aboul-Hassan’ statement and the Yellow Dragons’ threat has thrown into doubt Ismailia’s negotiations 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. Players’ demands also contrast starkly with salaries paid to coaches. “My salary is exactly what it was four years ago. The salary inflation does not apply to coaches,” said Ismailia’s Dutch coach Mark Wotte. Ismailia, like many top Egyptian teams, is government-owned. Government funding, already reduced prior to Mubarak’s ousting, has become uncertain as Egypt seeks to recover economically from mass protests demanding Mubarak’s departure that paralyzed the country for more than three weeks. So has its sponsorship from business that has suffered losses as the result of the turmoil. “Economic losses will of course have an impact on the generosity of businesspeople when it comes to sponsoring,” Wotte said. The protests coupled with demonstrations sweeping North Africa that also toppled Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali and have sparked a bloody crackdown in Libya has reduced tourism, a main stay of the region’s economy, to a trickle. Egyptian soccer clubs are also feeling the pressure with professional league matches suspended since late January because of the turmoil and the country’s soccer fans like much of the Egyptian public focused on ensuring that Mubarak’s departure leads to political and economic reform. Many Egyptians fear that without continued public pressure, Egypt’s new military rulers may not live up to their promise to lead the country within six months to democracy. Diminished government funding and popular demand for greater transparency reinforces FIFA’s insistence that Egyptian clubs reduce government involvement, become incorporated companies or associations and move towards private ownership and possible listing on the Egyptian stock exchange. At least half of the Premier League’s teams are owned by the government or the military. “Based on a decision of the FIFA Congress all statutes of the 208 member associations have been or are reviewed and aligned to the FIFA statutes. The EFA is currently in process of revising its statutes accordingly,” FIFA said in an emailed statement.
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