“Eyes of Egypt” team…ambitious statement and government denials after “the church’s only mistake”
The recurring controversy that Christians have been subjected to discrimination in the field of Egyptian sports has returned to the spotlight due to the decision of churches in central Cairo to establish a sports club.
While some support this idea with the explanation that Copts do not get the opportunity to represent clubs and teams, as they state, the opponents referred to sports charters that prevent the interference of religious and political issues in sports, as well as the possibility of devoting them to sectarianism.
Churches in the center of Cairo announced the idea of establishing a sports club called “Eyes of Egypt” that will participate in the fourth division of the Egyptian Football League.
The club has announced the opening of entrance tests for entering the ranks of the football team for children born (2003 to 2013) as part of preparations to participate in the fourth division league, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.
A club official, Rev. Gerges Shafiq, told the newspaper that the team will not be limited to Christians, but will open its doors to all with the aim of competing in the fourth division.
He said that his ambitions extend beyond football, as he plans to found more clubs in table tennis, chess, handball, etc.
The church’s announcement follows a meeting between the Minister of Youth and Sports, Ashraf Sobhi, about 3 weeks ago, with Anba Raphael, the general bishop of the churches in central Cairo.
There is no official requirement to publish a church club
According to the government newspaper, Al-Ahram, the meeting came to discuss the procedures for the announcement of the Egyptian Eyes Club in Buhaira Governorate and the mechanism to involve the church’s youth in the activities and events of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Two weeks after that meeting, ministers denied in a statement their intention to set up a church-affiliated club, saying the idea contravened club advertising laws.
In this context, the Director of Public Relations and Information at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Mohamed El-Shazly, denied that the ministry had received a request from the church to publicize a sports club belonging to it.
Al-Shazly told the Al-Hurra TV website that the ministry had not received any request to advertise the club under the name “Eyes of Egypt”, noting that a law issued in 2017 prohibits advertising of sports clubs on religious, political or ethnic grounds.
And in the Law on Sports no. 71 from 2017, Article 1 “definitions and declarations of bodies” states that a sports body is “any group consisting of several natural or legal persons, or both together, for the purpose of providing sports services and related services, and that body is not may engage in any activities.” political, party, religious or promoting political ideas or goals.”
And by sports body, it means either federations of various games, sports clubs or even the Olympic Committee.
El-Shazly explained that Anba Raphael, the general bishop of the churches in the center of Cairo, requested a meeting with the minister of youth and sports regarding the activation of the sports activities of the church, especially with regard to the scouting movement, which the minister welcomed, according to El-Shazly.
And he continued: “When this idea incorrectly appeared in the media, we issued a statement denying the establishment of the club, given that the law forbids it… The public may not know the legal background.”
“Stone in still waters”
On the other hand, a researcher specializing in issues of discrimination against Copts in Egypt, Nader Shukry, spoke to the Al-Hurra website, saying that the meeting that brought together the Minister of Youth and Sports with the Bishop General of the Churches in the center of Cairo witnessed a discussion on the request to establish a club .
He said that the goal of the church with the idea of establishing a sports club is to “move the stone in the stagnant waters… There is a problem that we have to solve”, referring to the suffering of the Copts due to discrimination in Egypt’s sports system.
He explains: “The idea comes with the aim of reintegrating the Copts into the sports system within the framework of the civil state, similar to hospitals and schools linked to the Church… The idea is not sectarian, because the Egypt Eyes Club will be available to Muslims as coaches, administrators and players, such as is the case in other facilities.”
Egyptian Copts have always complained about discrimination in sports, claiming that they do not have the opportunity to play in clubs and national teams, especially football.
Shoukry said that Copts were not given the opportunity to play in clubs because of the prevailing climate of extremism and the dominance of Islamic groups over public life in Egypt, which casts a shadow over all official institutions, including sports.
He added that after Hani Ramzy reached the first team and participated in the 1990 World Cup, “The Copts did not have clear opportunities in all the matches, which raised a question mark considering the presence of more than 15 million Christians in Egypt. . . . Even in individual matches, the Copts rarely get a chance.” Despite the talent.
While El-Shazly points to Hani Ramzy as a model for Christian players who wore the Egyptian national team armband and coached the Olympic team after retiring from playing, Shoukry claims that Coptic talents are not given a chance at clubs for purely religious reasons.
Ramzy, after retiring from playing after an arduous career that spent much of it in European stadiums, was given the opportunity to coach the Egyptian Olympic team in the 2012 Summer Olympics football competition.
Shoukry pointed out that many coaches and scouts refuse to register Coptic players in clubs, even if they pass the talent test, explaining that these coaches carry religious thoughts.
He continued: “Coptic talents have reached a point of great frustration and some are not taking exams at clubs because they know they will not be accepted if their religion is revealed.”
On the other hand, El-Shazly refutes this, saying that the representation of Egyptian clubs and national teams in various sports is in the first place according to talent and ability, without considering faith in this matter, stating that the Ministry of Youth and Sports does not count administrators and players on religious basis.
The “prostrate” team.
While Shoukry explained that 7 to 8 Coptic players play in Egyptian Premier League football clubs, with the presence of Christian players in various match teams, Shoukry says that only one Coptic player in the Premier League: Gerges Magdy plays for Enppi Club.
El-Shazly revealed that the Egyptian Ministry of Youth and Sports has a national project called “Star of Egypt” (Stars of Egypt) in partnership with the private sector to send 7 players to a six-month outdoor camp in the Netherlands.
He said: “It turned out, by sheer coincidence, after the selection of seven players by European scouts for this camp, that 4 are Christians and 3 are Muslims.”
On the other hand, in response to laws prohibiting the mixing of religious and political issues in sports, Shoukry believes that religion and politics are present in Egyptian stadiums, including the Mostaqbal Watan Club.
The club “National Future”, affiliated with the party that had the same name and changed it to “Al-Mustaqbal Sport” earlier this year, competes in the Egyptian Second Division Football League after its recent promotion.
He also explained that the idea of calling the Egyptian national team a “prostration team” carries religious connotations and leads to the isolation of Copts from cheering on their country, he said.
And he added: “We dream of establishing a real city-state away from religious institutions, but we need general rules that guarantee that there will be a choice based on ability, and not through mediation or religious discrimination” in all state institutions.
In that regard, Shoukry acknowledged that the church got one thing wrong: It could sponsor the club without a priest coming into the picture, he said.
He said: “The Church of Egypt is patriotic, and its aim is to participate in nation-building, and it wants its children to be delivered from frustration.”