The year couldn’t have gotten off to a better start than with a victory in the African Nations Cup, which Egypt managed to secure in Ghana in January. Hassan Shehata led his team to success over Cameroon in the final, the team’s talisman Mohammed Abou-Trika scoring the only goal of the game.
This was Egypt’s second consecutive victory in the tournament, the cup-holders winning it in 2006 at home, the latest victory ensuring that Egypt was now the sole record holders of the tournament, having won it an unprecedented six times.
Yet this victory was tinged with a bitter taste for many supporters when Egypt and Ahly goalkeeper Essam Al-Hadary negotiated a contract with Swiss club Sion reportedly while at the tournament. He left for Switzerland shortly after returning to Egypt from Ghana.
There was uproar in Egypt over Hadary doing a runner and Ahly were fuming, insisting that Hadari had a binding contract with them and therefore could not sign for another club, rendering his actions a breach of said contract.
Bizarrely, Hadary returned to Ahly, apologized to the fans for leaving midseason, only to complete another u-turn and invoking a FIFA rule (article 17) which allows a player to cancel their contract after a “protected period, that allowed him to return to Sion where he is currently plying his trade.
The incident heralded similar ones, as local clubs tried to snatch their competitors’ top players. Truth was lost in numerous brawls that involved the national teams’ stars.
The burst of new privately-owned sports satellite stations found rich material to report on as these brawls became front-page favorites for country’s newspaper editors. Members of club boards, sports federations and star players were exchanging accusations and insults on air.
Relief came when Egypt moved to the second round of World Cup qualifiers later this year, proving that national team coach Hassan Shehata was able to keep his players’ momentum in spite of the ongoing problems and in the process re-ignited the nation’s hopes of playing in the World Cup in 2010.
It was good news though for Egypt’s players who managed to get contracts in European clubs. Ahly’s Emad Meteb’s deal to go to the English Premiership League fell apart at the last minute. It was Amr Zaki, who moved from Zamalek to Wigan, who became the star of the Premiership League, sitting on top of the scorers’ lists.
The year almost ended on a sad note for football, when Ahly’s star and Egypt’s favorite Abou-Trika was offered a deal to move to a Saudi club on a one-season-loan. After returning from Japan, where the club finished sixth in the seven-team Club World Cup, the player was met with emotional fans who asked him to stay in Egypt. The player, who had previously expressed a wish to move to a European club, has reportedly turned down the offer.
Both Zaki and Abou-Trika were nominated to be the best African players of 2008.
Local football took the backseat in the summer for the Beijing Olympics, which ended embarrassingly for Egypt with a sole bronze medal, won by Hesham Mesbah, to its name. While viewers were glued to TV screens watching Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps make history, Egypt was eliminated early on from sports believed to have been dominated by its teams in other championships.
An inquest followed as sports officials played a game of pass the buck over the failure.
President Hosni Mubarak even ordered an investigation into the reasons behind the failure, but all that resulted was that the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the National Sports Council (NSC) traded insults over who was culpable.
Many stated that the furor over the decision by the NSC to amend regulations for sports clubs and federations in Egypt in May had a significant effect on the disappointing showing in the Olympics.
The NSC has introduced these changes to shake up age-old administrative structures and practices in hope of developing the sports sector in Egypt.
The NSC had issued an executive statute which restructured the makeup of club boards of directors – effectively removing the role of vice-president – as well as funding.
It also allowed clubs to generate new sources of funding through advertising and bank loans, as opposed to the governmentally imposed budgets and funding of the past. It also canceled the exception previously allowed to members of international sports federations to run for president in their respective Egyptian federation for more than two terms.
Additionally, the new statute federation members from running for seats in the NOC, in an attempt to maintain the independence of the body, thus promoting it as a sort of watchdog.
Most sports federations held their elections – scheduled every four years – at the end of 2008. It’s yet to be seen whether the NCS’s decisions would change the face of Egyptian sports.