Political controversy marred last night’s celebrations over Al-Ahly’s victory in the Champions League Africa Cup.
After scoring a goal against South Africa’s Orlando Club, Ahly player Ahmed Abdel Zaher raised four fingers — a now-iconic salute to Rabea al-Adaweya, the site of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in whose violent dispersal on August 14 left hundreds dead.
Ahly coach Mohamed Youssef told the privately run newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm on Monday that Abdel Zaher would be referred to an internal investigation within the football club for making a political statement during a match.
Another political controversy unfolded when Ahly star Mohamed Abou Treika refused to receive his medal from the sports minister, in a gesture of repudiation of the current government.
Ever since the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi, the political fault lines dividing Egypt have come to the fore in the arena of sports.
The Kung Fu Federation in Egypt sentenced team member Mohamed Youssef to a one-year suspension this October for wearing a t-shirt with the four-fingered hand symbolizing Rabea while receiving his gold medal in the world championship in Russia.
Another Kung Fu athlete, Hesham Abdel Hamid, was also suspended after making the Rabea salute in an international championship, out of solidarity with his teammate.
While local, regional and Olympic charters prohibit any form of political demonstration within games, some argue that the Egyptian authorities are punishing certain political references while letting others slide.
Abou Treika escaped with no punishment when he famously revealed a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Sympathizing with Gaza” in 2008 after scoring a goal in a match against Sudan in the Africa Cup. The Confederation of African Football let him off with only a warning.
Sports Minister Taher Abou Zeid explained in statements to the Filgoal website that he decided to suspend Hamid and start an investigation into the Kung Fu Federation after it failed to punish the two athletes. However, he thought there was no need to suspend Abdel Zaher, as the Ahly club took the initiative to punish him.
Walid Azzam, the former general secretary of the Olympic Council and current head of the Cycling Federation, told Mada Masr that while the charters clearly prohibit the use of political slogans during games, they don’t outline specific penalties for violating that rule.
“This is a new phenomenon for us. All federations should meet and decide on procedures to prevent this from happening, in addition to [determining] exact punishments in case it happens,” Azzam asserted.
Azzam suggested a preparatory course for players and coaches to ensure that they only represent Egypt in athletic competitions, and leave their other affiliations off the field.
“Otherwise, if two Egyptian players on one team have different political ideologies, they could start fighting in the middle of the field. We can’t let that happen,” Azzam warned.