CAIRO (AP) – The Egyptian Football Federation on Tuesday delayed domestic league games indefinitely because police have not given assurances they can secure matches.
The federation's deputy chairman Hassan Farid told The Associated Press that the Interior Ministry has not guaranteed it can safeguard the games, which were scheduled to start in August. The season was delayed several times over the past two months due to protests by die-hard fans and issues related to corporate sponsorships.
Fans are demanding justice for 74 people killed in February when supporters of Al-Masry, in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, stormed the pitch and bleachers where Cairo's Al-Ahly team players and fans were positioned. Stadium lights were shut off and doors barred shut during the melee, causing a suffocating stampede. Witnesses said they saw Al-Ahly fans being thrown off bleachers, stabbed and undressed.
Local rights groups say security forces stood by to punish fans of Egypt's most popular team, Al-Ahly, for their high-profile involvement in protests against the former regime and the transitional military rule. Among 73 people who have been charged in the incident are nine senior police officers.
The so-called Ultra supporters of Al-Ahly team have since rallied outside stadiums where friendly cup matches were played without spectators, demanding that those charged are found guilty. They have also stormed the federation's offices in September, firing flares at the building, smashing cars belonging to employees and walking away with trophies to denounce a decision that the league would start in October.
The supporters have also held large-scale marches in Cairo and painted murals of those killed along a major downtown street.
Federation head Gamal Allam said the Interior Ministry has not provided a written confirmation it can protect league matches.
Ahmed Megahid, a board member of the football federation, said it is ''not responsible for the environment surrounding the matches'' and that security must be provided by the Interior Ministry.
''We will not play based on a verbal vow,'' he told the AP. ''We require a written letter from the Interior Ministry with its approval for the start of the league.''