Egyptian football is making its return on Thursday, with the resumption of Premier League after a pause of almost five months.
Egyptian Premier League has faced many crises in the current season, the most notable of which is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This has caused all sporting events in Egypt, and worldwide, to grind to a halt for the better part of 148 days.
Like elsewhere around the world, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) took the step of halting league matches due to the pandemic.
The league’s return comes despite most clubs having hoped for the rest of the season to be scrapped entirely, in order for a new season to commence.
However, this resumption can be seen a major success for the EFA’s five-member normalisation committee, which saved the country’s football industry from any further financial losses. Recent figures that have been released suggest that Egypt’s football industry has lost over EGP 1.5bn during the lockdown period.
Over the past few weeks, each club has conducted at least five coronavirus tests on all players. With the exception of a few players, the cases that were positively diagnosed were either asymptomatic or presented with only minor symptoms before recovering quickly.
The EFA, for its part, has taken the necessary measures to sterilise stadiums across the country that will host league matches, whilst putting in place all precautionary measures to ensure matches are safe. Clubs have also taken precautionary measures, whether with regard to player buses or reducing the numbers allowed in every bus and sterilising all tools that the team uses.
What is certain is that fans are not expecting strong games, as players will need time to restore their fitness to pre-coronavirus levels in the coming period. Despite friendly matches having been held by teams in the run-up period to the league re-starting, these have not been sufficient.
The return of local competition has, however, provided a major boon for the EFA – and that it can save its budgets. It had originally looked towards international football governing body, FIFA, for financial help, but the resumption of league matches means the EFA can now waive the need for a $5m FIFA loan.
Saving sponsors and clubs
The abolition of the Premier League championship were set to cause significant financial losses to sponsoring companies, as well as to the EFA. This was a risk particularly as they had contracted large sums to sponsor clubs, since Presentation, the marketing and advertising company, which has become the main sponsor to the league, compensates the money used to sponsor clubs from matches and broadcast rights.
Preparing national teams
One of the biggest gains in the resumption of league activity is that preparations for various national team matches have resumed as well. With players now back in club training and playing league matches, preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup qualifiers are also set to make their return. The Olympic team will also start on its preparations for the Tokyo Olympics that have been postponed to the summer of 2021.
EFA warns clubs against violations
EFA Chairperson Amr El Ganainy has sent a warning to clubs against stirring up any disputes. He also stressed for the need to put in place all precautionary measures during training, camps, and in matches.
In spite of the many advantages in the resumption of league activity, there is likely to be a significantly negative impact that will appear in the coming season. This has been attributed to the limited break between the two seasons, which may have an impact on clubs and the general physical condition of players.
Despite the postponement of the Africa Cup of Nations 2021, the situation will not change this season, as it will close by the end of November, while the new season set to begin in mid-December.
Clubs fight against relegation, Al Ahly closes in on title
Several teams are facing the possibility of relegation from the Premier League, including Tanta Sporting Club (SC), whose chairperson Fayez Areby was a vocal voice in having the current season cancelled.
More than 10 teams are in the danger zone, with each having scored no more than 11 points or slightly more. Al Ittihad Alexandria Club has also had a poor season, gaining only 27 points, as well as Smouha SC with 25 points, and Enppi with 23 points.
Meanwhile, Al Ahly is in a league of its own, flying high with 49 points. The Cairo giant is now the closest to winning the title, with its arch rival and fellow Cairo-based Zamalek ranked in fourth place with 28 points.