CAIRO: The Egyptian Football Association has canceled the rest of this season’s league matches in the wake of rioting at a match last month that killed 71 people and injured hundreds of others.
The league was suspended less than halfway through the season after the deadly stampede on Feb. 1 in Port Said following a match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly.
Egyptian FA spokesman Azmy Megahed said Saturday the season will not resume because there is not enough time to play the games before the national team is expected to begin training for the 2013 African Cup qualifiers and this year’s London Olympics.
A number of Al-Ahly players have said they would not have played anyway due to low morale and because no one has yet been brought to justice for the bloodshed.
Spokesman Megahed said that 18 teams, divided into two groups, will play in a friendly tournament in empty stadiums starting later this month. Megahed had earlier suggested that the tournament would help raise money for families of those killed in the violence, but on Saturday he told The Associated Press that it would be played primarily to appease sponsors.
Al-Masry, which hosted the Feb. 1 game, will not play.
The Port Said tragedy highlighted deteriorating security in the Arab world’s most populous country as instability continues nearly a year after former president Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in a popular uprising. It was the worst case of football violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996.
The violence began when fans of home team Al-Masry rushed the field following a win over Egypt’s top club, Al-Ahly, setting off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene.
Egypt’s lawmakers are currently investigating who was behind the deadly violence, which underscored the role of “ultras” football fans in Egypt’s recent protest movement.
Organized fans, in groups known as ultras, have played an important role in the revolution and rallies against military rule. Their anti-police songs, peppered with curses, have quickly become viral and an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward security forces that were accused of much of the abuse that was widespread under Mubarak’s regime.