The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has decided not to bid for replacing Libya as host of the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
EFA vice president Hany Abou-Reida told Al Ahram newspaper that Egypt couldn’t bid because it had already hosted the tournament in 2006. Mr. Abou-Reida’s remarks came days after EFA officials had suggested that Egypt alongside South Africa and Algeria may be interested if Libya proves to be too unsafe to host the Cup.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) is set to decide in September whether Libya, racked by hostilities between NATO-backed rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi, is capable of hosting the tournament. Few expect the situation in Libya to have returned to normal by September even if Mr. Qaddafi would have been forced out of office by then.
South Africa hosted at short notice the African Under-20 championship earlier this year after the fighting in Libya forced CAF to find a last minute alternative venue. CAF wants to avoid having to again move a tournament at short notice.
“Like any Egyptian I hoped to help my country gain that honour but we are effectively out of the competition because we hosted the tournament in 2006. South Africa and Algeria have much bigger chances of hosting the 2013 edition,” Mr. Abou-Reida said.
Egypt, a seven-time Cup winner, had considered bidding for the 2013 competition in a rebound after it earlier this month failed for the first time in 29 years to qualify for the tournament’s finals. The failure prompted the resignation of crowned but controversial national coach Hassan Shehata who led the team to three successive Cup wins.
Egypt’s sense of humiliation was to some degree alleviated with this weekend’s defeat of Sudan 2:0 by its Olympic team. The victory ensured it a place in the qualifying matches for the 2012 London Olympics. If Egypt succeeds to qualify for London, it would be the first time that it reaches the Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona games.
The match was played in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria as originally planned after the EFA initially agreed to a request by Alexandria security authorities to move the game for security reasons to Cairo, but then reversed its decision.
The request followed a brawl on Wednesday at a domestic league match in which 22 people were injured. The brawl was the latest incident of violence by militant soccer fans who are demanding a clean-up of Egyptian soccer.
The fans are seeking the removal of club and EFA officials appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak and an end to corruption. Fans and some Premier League clubs, including crowned Al Zamalek SC, charge that referees are among those officials who are corrupt. The brawl in Alexandria followed a decision by a referee that fans disagreed with.
Militant soccer fans played a key role in pitched battles with police and Mubarak loyalists during the mass anti-government demonstrations in late and January and February that forced the president to resign.
The Egyptian interior ministry has threatened to cancel the current Premier League season if the fan violence continues and the EFA has warned that clubs could lose points if they fail to control their fans. The EFA this week fined Alexandria club Ittihad al-Skandarya $9,000 and ordered it to play one home game away from home because of Wednesday’s brawl that led to the cancellation of the team’s match against Wadi Degla.
In deciding not to bid for the 2013 CUP, the EFA opted to avoid the risk of being rejected on security grounds.
Funding was another factor in the EFA’s decision. The association and financially troubled clubs are trying to recover from losses suffered this year as a result of the political turmoil. Egyptian professional soccer matches were suspended for three months this year to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point.
Hosting the 2013 would have forced the EFA to see funding from the government at a time that it too is trying to cope with the financial fallout of the country’s revolution.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)