Tensions over the whereabouts of the domestic football league’s most anticipated match of the season, between Cairo giants Al-Ahly and Al-Zamalek, required a top state authority’s intervention for resolution.
The match between the two arch rivals, set to take place on Tuesday, will be held in Alexandria’s Borg Al-Arab stadium.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) originally scheduled the Week 37 game between the two for the Red Sea resort city of Gouna on Tuesday afternoon, a decision strongly contested by Al-Ahly’s administration.
The club hosting the match issued a statement objecting to the decision, who refused to play their home match at a stadium with a “bad pitch and amidst hot weather that can cause players exhaustion three days before the match against Etoile Sportive du Sahel in the Confederation Cup”.
The club’s statement on Saturday accused the EFA of “insistence on not applying unbiased regulations”.
The club added that it also offered to host the game at the Petro Sport stadium in Suez or the Youth City stadium in Sharm El-Sheikh “in respect to the [current] conditions”.
The conditions mentioned are security restrictions on holding football matches as, since the killings at the Port Said stadium in February 2012, fans are banned from attending matches.
Egypt’s hardcore fan groups, most notably Al-Zamalek’s Ultras White Knights (UWK) and Al-Ahly’s Ultras Ahlawy (UA), are known for their distrust of security forces. Ultras fans have also played a significant role in many of the revolutionary protests since the 25 January Revolution.
Fans were close to a return to stands last February when security forces violently dispersed crowds of Al-Zamalek fans before their game against ENPPI. This resulted in the deaths of 20 fans, in a match that was to have seen the much-wanted return of fans to the stands.
The EFA issued a response to Al-Ahly, insisting on the Gouna stadium as a venue for the match urging the club, “in respect to the security conditions”, to adhere to the security clearance of the stadium as the venue for the match.
On Sunday, thousands of Al-Ahly fans gathered at the club’s premises and expressed support for the club’s decision not to play the match in Gouna. The EFA retreated, announcing the match will be held on Tuesday evening in Borg Al-Arab stadium following “intensive communications between the association, the armed forces and the ministry of interior”, according to EFA spokesman Azmy Megahed.
The anticipated Tuesday match will be a title decider, as Al-Zamalek needs only one point to secure the title, the club’s first in 11 years, with three matches in hand.