CAIRO: Sports in 2008 was more like a fluctuating chart: football and individual sports’ victories intertwined with Olympic disappointments and administrative conflicts on the local scene.
“Winning the African Cup, women squash team victory breaking the dominance of England and Australia for more than 30 years, and men’s squash rankings are the most remarkable achievements, Inas Mazhar, head of sports section at Al Ahram Weekly. told Daily News Egypt.
In team sports, the national football team successfully defended their 2006 title and won the African Cup of Nations for the sixth time to remain the champions of Africa for another two years.
On the club level, Al-Ahly won its sixth African title but concluded the year with a disappointing show at the Club World Cup finishing sixth out of seven participating teams.
Their Cairo rival Zamalek won their first title in four years by winning the Egypt Cup but it was downhill from there. The team failed to impress in other championships, often barely trying to end their winless streaks. On the administrative level, the club’s elections were cancelled after former president Mortada Mansour challenged its legitimacy. Shortly after, Mamdouh Abbas, who was leading the appointed board, quit, leaving the club in a state of instability.
“The fall down of Zamalek club is one of the year’s highlights; the club officials, fans and members or even anyone from outside the club must save it because Egyptian sports can’t do without both Al-Ahly and Zamalek, Mazhar said.
The national handball team succeeded in restoring its African title after a tough game with Tunisia in Angola. However, the team failed to win any games in the Olympics with three draws and three defeats.
The volleyball team impressed in the world league winning four matches against Poland, Japan and China after three previous participations without a single victory; however, like other Egyptian sports, they also lost all their matches in the Olympics.
It was squash, however, that never disappointed sports enthusiasts in Egypt.
Egyptian players dominated the top three world rankings. While Amr Shabana remained on top of the world ranking for the most part of 2008, Karim Darwish shot to number one in December, leaving Shabana 2nd and Rami Ashour 3rd.
With Wael El Hindi finishing the year in eighth place, Egypt had four of its player in the top 10.
In addition, Egyptian women squash national team, comprising Omnia Abdel Qawy (world ranking 7th), Raneem El Waleely (20th) and Engy Khair Allah (21st), won the world title for the first time after beating England 2-1 in the final to emphasize the complete Egyptian dominance on the game this year.
The speedball national team also came with good news, winning the world championship held in France. Yasser Fathy won men’s single, Manar Ibrahim won women’s single, Nabil Adel men’s double and Roaa El Helaly women’s double.
Also the national body building team won the world title in the championship held in Bahrain after Ahmed Hamouda, Mohamed Anwar, Mohamed Othman and Mohamed Zakaria won the first place in different categories.
In modern pentathlon, youngster Aya Madany won the silver medal in the adult world championship held in Budapest, Hungary to keep her ranking as the number one in the world. Yet, in spite of being one of Egypt’s sure medalists in the Olympics, she finished in seventh place.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics was a huge disappointment for Egyptians.
Egypt participated with its largest team – 101 players – since the start of this international competition, but it only received one bronze medal, thanks to judo champ Hesham Mesbah who won Egypt’s first Olympic medal in judo since Mohamed Rashwan’s achievement in Los Angeles 1984.
The gold medalists of Athens 2004 such as wrestler Karam Gaber, and other 2008 potential big winners such as Mohamed El Zanaty in long distance swimming, Madany in modern Pentathalon, the weight lifting team, the handball team and the taekwondo team failed to meet the high expectations.
Following the Beijing failure an investigative committee was formed upon the request of President Hosni Mubarak – comprising sports experts under the leadership of Minister of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Mofid Shehab – to find out the reasons for the failure and propose solutions.
The committee’s report referred to the ongoing conflict between the National Olympic Committee and National Council for Sports about new regulations for sports federations as a reason for the failure.
The report suggested establishing a specialized sports tribunal to rule in the ongoing disputes, a fund to sponsor players in different sports, and a ministry for sports. The report also called for the re-launch of the Olympic Champion project.
“For the first time the committee made recommendations that will be implemented after we got used to receiving dull statements about reasons for failure without any practical solutions, Mazhar said.
On the administrative level, 2008 witnessed the long debate on the new regulations organizing the election system and structure of sports federation, suggested by Hassan Saqr, head of the national sports council, which were rejected by many federations’ presidents.
Under the new regulations, the president of any federation can only run for two four-year-terms and the elected board should consist of a president and five members, in addition to three appointed members. The regulations canceled the vice president and treasurer positions.
Mainly incumbent federation presidents rallied against the new regulations including long-running Handball federation president Hassan Mostafa, head of the international federation, and volleyball’s Amr Elwany, head of the African federation and vice president of the international one.
They even threatened to take their objections to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for governmental interference in sport affairs; consequently leaving the entirety of Egyptian sports representation at the risk of suspension by IOC.
“There must be new blood; their achievements couldn’t be denied but those who opposed [the new regulations] knew they wouldn’t have been able to continue, so they were supposed to train new leaders to maintain the achievements and the winning streak, Mazhar said.
“The government didn’t interfere; interference is when the elections are canceled and then the government appoints people, which isn’t the case here, they were just amendments [to the regulations], she added
Consequently, the federation elections, which took place between October and December, saw many surprising results. Hady Fahmy, Aly El Sirgany, and Yasser Edris led the list of unexpected changes, replacing long running presidents of handball, volleyball and swimming federations, respectively.
In other federations some of the long-running presidents maintained their presence by backing candidates who, later on, won the elections.
With a winning streak under his belt, Samir Zaher maintained his presidency of the Egyptian Football Association, even though one of his opponents filed a law suit at the supreme administrative court to suspend his candidacy because of Zaher’s alleged failure to complete the neccessary candidacy documents, by presenting his criminal records sheet. Zaher received a ruling allowing him to run in the elections until the administrative court rules on the validity of the accusation.
Zaher has a full year in 2009, with the participation in the Confederations Cup, the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and hosting the U-20 World Cup.