Being a football fan in Egypt has been a dangerous, sometimes even deadly, passion for years. That may soon change.
The Al-Ahly club’s “Ultras” _ hardcore supporters of the Cairo-based team and the country’s largest fan association _ have appealed to authorities to negotiate an end to years of tension and violence while disavowing members involved in a recent post-game rampage that had temporarily shattered the prospects for reconciliation.
Preliminary contacts between the two sides are underway as a prelude to talks to hammer out an agreement allowing fans back in games for the first time since a ban on attendance following a 2012 riot in the coastal city of Port Said that left more than 70 fans, mostly Ultras, dead in one of the world’s worst football-related incidents.
The ban on fans attending games was later relaxed for continental games. An attempt earlier this year to introduce a partial and gradual relaxation of the ban on domestic games was aborted at the last minute, with police citing security concerns.
The ongoing contacts to lift the ban are a welcome development that, if fruitful, would give a significant boost to the sport at a time when Egypt is making its return to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years.
“We are all suffering from the absence of fans and want them back to revive the atmosphere in stadiums,” said Mukhtar Mukhtar, the manager of league club Military Production. “Their absence has undoubtedly impacted on the players’ performance.”
A deal is believed to be possible now because the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi appears to be more confident of its control over the country after years of turmoil and a massive crackdown that sent thousands of dissidents to jail.
The riot in Port Said in 2012 was not the only football-related tragedy to befall Egypt.
In 2015, 22 fans were killed in a stampede prompted by heavy tear gas fired by police outside a military-owned stadium in a Cairo suburb. Additionally, hundreds of fans have been arrested over the years as the Ultras took part in violent protests, including one in 2013 that torched the headquarters of the Egyptian football federation and vandalized a police social club, and others marking the anniversary of the 2012 tragedy.
The violence has over time deepened a sort of vendetta between police and fans, who seize every occasion to taunt the paramilitary force with chants, some of which also have an anti-government slant. Moreover, many fans accuse the police of failing to prevent the deadly Port Said riot or intervene to end it when it first started.
The years of violence, arrests and incessant demonization of fans by the pro-government media have led to the reduction of the number of association members across the country, forcing some to even voluntarily disband. But they have also given rise to a younger and more radical generation whose resentment of authorities is more deeply entrenched and seem more inclined to be involved in acts of violence, according to veteran fan association leaders.
But fatigue from a long, drawn-out conflict may have finally set in.
“We are tired of going around police stations and prisons looking for our comrades,” said Mohammed Saheel, a former Ultras leader from Cairo. “We want things to quieten down with the government, see the detainees go free and the crackdown ends.”
Ultras leaders and lawyers representing them say that another idea under consideration is to disband the association as a goodwill gesture they hope the government would reciprocate with a pardon for convicted members or those in detention awaiting trial. Another idea under consideration is to retain a private security firm to police matches, thus removing the possibility of fan-police frictions.
The fallout from the violence of the past years has been catastrophic for the game, by far Egypt’s most popular, hurting mainly the big clubs with a large support base. Club officials complain it has negatively impacted on performances, with games in domestic competitions played before eerily silent terraces.
Not surprisingly, the national squad that qualified for the World Cup in Russia is mostly made up of foreign-based players, led by Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah.
The Ultras and their clashes with police are a potent example of how soccer and politics mix in Egypt. The Ultras played a key role in the uprising that toppled long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. They fought police for months in street clashes that followed.
Their battle of wills with the police led to a court ruling in 2015 that outlawed the Ultras, along with other associations, branding them terrorist groups affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group.
The pro-government media has claimed they were also linked to a leftist, anti-government group, April 6, which together with the Brotherhood have been declared terrorist organizations in separate court rulings.
The feud endures, prompting calls by some commentators for both sides to sit down and resolve their differences to avoid more violence. These calls followed a statement released April 3 by the Ultras in which they appealed to el-Sissi to start a dialogue between them and police to iron out their differences and to pardon nearly 50 members detained since last month’s rampage in a Cairo stadium.
The statement, issued to mark el-Sissi’s re-election last month, was the clearest peace offering by the Ultras.
“I appeal to the presidency to respond to the statement,” said Mohammed Rashwan, a prominent defense lawyer who has represented members of the Ultras in a series of court cases. “I have already been in contact with the minister of youth and sports and there are initiatives under discussion to allow fans to return to stadiums and lay down a system for that.”
A South African footballer who was struck by lightning during a match has died in hospital, his club confirmed.
Maritzburg United striker Luyanda Ntshangase, 21, had been in an induced coma since being injured in the friendly game on 1 March.
In a statement on Facebook, the club described him as one its rising young stars and said the team was in mourning.
Maritzburg United are currently fourth in South Africa's Premier League.
"We are extremely sad about the loss of Luyanda, an exciting young player with enormous potential," said Maritzburg chairman Farook Kadodia in the statement.
"On behalf of Maritzburg United Football club, we would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the Ntshangase family."
Ntshangase had risen though the club's ranks and made his debut against Kaizer Chiefs two seasons ago.
He was one of three players caught by the bolt of lightning during the match in KwaZulu-Natal.
The two others were only slightly hurt but Ntshangase suffered burns to his chest, South African media report.
The player's death is the third tragedy to hit Maritzburg United in recent years.
Promising midfielders Mondli Cele, 27, and Mlondi Dlamini, 20, both died in separate car accidents in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The bodies of Italian striker Federico Zini and former girlfriend Elisa Amato were found in a car in a suspected murder-suicide in Tuscany, Italy
An Italian football player who once tried his luck in the Philippines has been found dead along with his ex-girfriend after a suspected murder-suicide, according to reports in Italy on Saturday, May 26.
Federico Zini, who played for Serie D side Tuttocuoio and trialed for Ceres-Negros in 2015, shot his 30-year-old former girlfriend Elisa Amato following a violent dispute and then took his own life, police said.
Zini would have turned 25 the next day, May 27.
The bodies of the pair were found inside Zini's car at San Miniato, near Pisa in Tuscany on Saturday morning.
"It was a murder-suicide," police told Gazzetta Dello Sport.
Striker Zini had been considered a promising youth footballer in Italy when he started his career at Tuscany club Empoli.
He had spent 4 years playing for teams in Malta, Bulgaria, the Philippines and Mongolia before returning to Italy last year.
Colombian footballer Alejandro Penaranda was killed in a gun attack on Saturday in which his teammate Heissen Izquierdo was injured, reports said.
Penaranda, who plied his trade for second division Deportivo Tulua, succumbed to his injuries.
In a statement, published by ESPNFC, Deportivo Tulua confirmed the death of the 24-year-old forward in a “violent act”.
“The incident took place at 12:40 a.m. local time. There was a party with various footballers,” police commander Hugo Casos was quoted as saying by ESPNFC.
“A man came to the place asking for a woman and seconds later jumped over the wall and began to shoot the young men, leaving one dead and one injured,” the Deportivo Tulua statement said.
According to the preliminary investigations, the attack was aimed at Alejandro Penaranda and Heissen, although it is believed that a woman is involved who should have been at the party but wasn’t. The police believes it is a crime of passion.
“Club Deportivo Tulu and America de Cali express their sincere condolences for the tragic death of the player Alejandro Penaranda, in a violent act that took place at Friday night in a house in Cali east,” the added.
“Undoubtedly, the death of this 24-year-old, who was part of our institutions, is a terrible loss for professional football because there are many games left to play and many goals that would surely have come through the dedication and professionalism that he always showed.
“We send a message of support to his family and friends and pray to God to give them strength to overcome the absence of this great person who always fought to achieve his dreams and who left an indelible mark on their hearts.
“We raise a prayer to God for the quick recovery of Heissen Izquierdo, who was also affected in this terrible event.”
Colombia players held a minute’s silence in memory of Penaranda before their friendly against Egypt in Bergamo, Italy. The match ended in 0-0 draw.