Friday, February 3, 2012


It was a sweet and sour story for African football on Wednesday, February 1, where on one hand, the beauty of football triumphed at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, but lost in Port Said, Egypt. While millions of fans from around the continent were being treated to two exciting matches at the 2012 African Cup of Nations, another ill-fated tie between local rivals - minnows Al Masry and giant Al-Ahly was simultaneously being played in Port Said, Egypt.

In the end, Ghana played a 1-1 draw with Guinea while Mali edged out Botswana 2-1.  Port Said recorded a surprise 3-1 win in favour of Al Masry and the shocking loss of at least 74 fans dead and a thousand injured after riots erupted at the blast of the final whistle. The violence escalated Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch and hurled sticks and stones as they chased players and fans from the rival team, who ran towards the exits and up the stands to escape. Police officers stood by, appearing overwhelmed. It was the worst football stadium disaster in the North African country, which has been the venue of recent political upheavals. The next day, protesters gathered outside the gates of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly football club's headquarters, close to the central Tahrir Square, the tipping point of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

"I was beaten with fists and kicks to the neck, head and feet. I saw our fans die before us and we are unable to do anything." Said a shaken Manuel Jose, Al-Ahly's Portuguese coach, who has since returned to Portugal and has threatened to leave his coaching job with Egypt's most successful club.

According to reports, many fans suffocated after becoming trapped in a narrow corridor as they fled the violence, while some people blamed the Egyptian police and security forces for not doing enough to intervene. "From the beginning of the game, the fans of the opposing team were allowed to fire rockets and stones at us without any intervention. In the end, it turned into a state of madness without any role for the security in the stands. We tried to save the lives of some of the fans, but many died before our eyes," explained Pedro Barny, Al-Ahly assistant coach.

As a result, the Egyptian Football Federation has suspended all leagues in the country. "The Egyptian federation has decided to stop the football leagues in all four divisions for an indefinite period after the violence that occurred in the game between al-Masry and al-Ahly, which represented a tragic shock to the centre of sport in general and the football family in particular,” read a statement from the federation.

The incidence has so far claimed the jobs of senior officials in Port Said and the football association who have been sacked. The governor of Port Said resigned, while the city's director of security and head of investigations were suspended and are now in custody. The country’s government has also declared three days of mourning.
"African football is in a state of mourning,” Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou said. A one minute's silence will be observed for the victims during the Nations Cup quarter-final matches this weekend. World football governing body FIFA has demanded full investigation into the violence.

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