Problems on hold
Two days ago, on Friday 21 June, Cairo celebrated the opening of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. For a record fifth time, Egypt is hosting the 32nd edition of the biennial international men’s football championship of Africa, organised by the Confederation of African Football. Predictably, with the sweeping popularity football enjoys in Egypt, the Egyptian media is chock full of news and coverage of the games. Egyptians hold high hopes of winning the cup, especially given that their team is playing on its own turf and amid its fans. If the Egyptian team wins, it will be for the eighth time, setting a new African record. The last time Egypt won the cup was in 2010; it was its seventh win.
Apart from aspirations for an Egyptian win, we all look forward to seeing Egypt prove herself competent at managing and securing the great tournament. The logistics of accommodating and transporting the various teams, administrators, trainers, referees, media persons and fans, as well as the coordination and synchronisation of the numerous events, is no simple work.
Egypt won the honour of hosting the Africa Cup of Nation basing on its state-of-the-art stadiums and relevant facilities. The games will be played in six stadiums: Cairo International Stadium, the Air Forces Stadium, and al-Salam Stadium in Cairo; Alexandria Stadium in Alexandria; Suez Stadium in Suez; and Ismailiya Stadium in Ismailiya. So there are four Egyptian governorates involved in the games: Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Ismailiya. All are well equipped to host the championship, and are linked with excellent roads.
I pray that Egypt succeeds in hosting of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in a manner that would reflect her long history and innate civilisation. To this end, let me share with you, dear Watani readers, a few thoughts on details which, if not attended to, may mar a great event that is watched not by Africans alone, but by people in the whole world.
The eagerness of Egyptians for their team to win the cup should not lead them to overlook the sports spirit they should display as hosts of the championship. They should fulfil their duty in honouring their guests, and making sure the teams are given warm welcome. The footballers of other teams should be treated not as rivals, but as tourists visiting our country. As such, Egyptians should be sure to exercise their time-honoured hospitality with all the teams during practice, play, or simply moving around. If we are to borrow from the experience of others, we might emulate the behaviour of fans at the FIFA World Cup games organised by Korea and Japan in 2002, who would divide themselves into two sides, each cheering for one of the playing teams. The teams were cheered on regardless of their nationality or ethnicity; what mattered alone was fair competition.
Again I say: we should deal with the teams competing in the games as guest tourist groups whose moves are not restricted to the games they play, but involve taxi rides, sightseeing, buying commodities and gifts, and other suchlike activities. We should deal with them with the friendliness, kindness and hospitality we Egyptians are famous for. This reputation we have gained from time immemorial should be before our eyes at all times as we welcome, honour, and serve our guests.
Imposing order and smoothness of motion in the stadiums where matches are played is a task of utmost intricacy. It involves high regulatory skills as fans, officials, competing teams, administrators, media persons and others find their various ways into stadiums. The task requires superior organisation of parking lots, ticket verification, security gates, easy-to-follow paths to seats, plus the accessibility of all services needed by those inside or outside the stadium. And it also involves equally intricate regulatory skills once the game is over and the masses exit the stadium. I stress this final point because I have a few negative experiences when I attended public events that involved massive audiences: order was superbly imposed as the guests entered but, once the event concluded and officials were led out, the masses were left to exit the venue on their own. Predictably, the result was utter chaos; leaving the place was a piece of hell as everyone struggled without much success to move forward, and tempers ran high. I sincerely hope this does not take place in the Africa Cup of Nations games.
Finally, I wish good luck to all the competing teams, and to the host country: our hospitable Egypt.
23 June 2019