Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy, said that they are preparing to lease a number of state sports assets in five governorates, as a preliminary step to launch a partnership with the private sector.
He added that the ministry has started implementing a plan to turn sports facilities into economic entities that will generate profits and contribute to increasing the national income.
Daily News Egypt sat down for an interview with Sobhy, whereby he said that his ministry seeks to activate the role of the private sector in sports as the new Sports Law, which allows clubs and legal persons to establish private companies for sports investment.
Sobhy also spoke about his efforts to solve the conflict between Egyptian football star Mohamed Salah and the Egyptian Football Federation (EFA), and the awaited return of the football fans to attend local games in stadiums, as well as the Zamalek’s conflict with the Egyptian Olympic committee. The transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
What was your role in solving Mohamed Salah’s crisis with EFA?
I did not speak publicly about this issue, but I used to work as marketing manager at Zamalek, hence I know very well that there are important rules to follow in dealing with a player like Salah. He is not just a football player. He and other Egyptian players playing outside the country make priceless promotion to Egypt. Salah plays in the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, that garner a massive viewership in the world, therefore he is a very high value to Egypt and strengthens its position, and the EFA should realise that. If we have paid millions of pounds to the world’s largest promotional agencies, we could not have made such promotional achievement by our players, therefore, I had to intervene. Salah’s agent was complaining about the lack of professionalism in dealing with Salah, though his threats to the EFA were unacceptable. I phoned Salah and he was very responsive to me. I understood what he wants, especially, the sponsorship issue being committed to certain advertising contracts. I also contacted the EFA and agreed with them to implement Salah and other players’ demands. I will coordinate in the coming period with Salah and other Egyptian stars abroad, and the Ministry of Tourism, to put a plan for promoting Egyptian tourism.
Egyptian football fans finally returned to attend matches in stadiums, how was that possible?
Since I assumed my position, I have been working on solving the sports sector problems. The absence of football fans was a real problem and the matches were tasteless. I called for a meeting attended by representatives from the Ministry of Interior, the Military Production Ministry, the armed forces, officials from the EFA, and the presidents of Egyptian football clubs. This meeting was fruitful, and we have agreed on allowing the return of fans to stadiums partially. We decided that the host team will have 3,000 tickets, while the visiting team will have 500 tickets, in addition to 1,500 university students and people with disabilities, while the EFA will be responsible for the fans attendance.
I would like to thank the Ministries of Interior and Military Production, and of course the EFA, which provided all the required measures and solutions. We were keen to test the return of spectators during the Arab Club Championship, and it was a great success.
Initially, it started in the Zamalek and Enppi match held on Saturday. The armed forces will also have 3,000 fans that will be placed in international games. The ministry will also put fans from governorates through the youth and sports committee, which has happened in the UAE Super game—which was praised by all. I received a call from Aswan from someone to attend the game.
It is a start and will increase the number gradually. We will establish an electronic platform to book tickets according to the latest technologies and global expertise and information security standards to attend matches in cooperation with the Ministries of Military Production and the private sector. This will be implemented in the beginning of the next season 2019/2020. Only the games played in stadiums prepared for this system will be attended by fans.
What is your role in conflict between Zamalek’s president and Olympic committee?
The Olympic committee cancelled the general assembly before its conclusion. Everyone was there. As a man of the state, it should have been contained. Sometimes, we have to be mindful to prevent disasters. If we did not cancel the assembly, it could have caused a major disaster. In any case, the Olympic committee is the body that will adopt the general assembly. Being the largest executive body, we work to resolve all crises and bring the views closer. We will announce the details in due course.
What are most prominent projects since you took responsibility?
There are many projects and initiatives. We have conducted elections for the boards of the youth centres and we are turning the youth centres into creative centres that are concerned with the cultural, medical, craft, and handicraft industries besides the sports role they play. We also organise a competition for youth centres through universities. We also participated in the celebration of the selection of Cairo this year as the capital of the Arab youth by organising several events, including two boats carrying 250 young men and women moving through the Nile to be welcomed by each governor and visit the most important places in each of the governorates they pass by. We also hosted a music culture competition and will organise the tournament for youth centres, schools, and universities, in cooperation with the Ministries of Education and Higher Education.
What are the ministry’s current investment plans?
The ministry’s plans include a number of partnership methods, such as granting usufruct or profit sharing rights of a large part of the ministry’s assets.
The partnership plan will also allow more effective investment of the returns on assets management compared to traditional management.
Are there any projects already in place?
The ministry will start applying the new plan in five governorates, mostly in Upper Egypt, which allows the private sector to manage stadiums and swimming pools affiliated to the ministry, which removes the burden of operating expenses from the ministry, preserves the assets, and raise the returns on them.
“The private sector also has a social role through the development of youth centres and sponsoring sports champions, similar to Talaat Moustafa Group that will sponsor 20 players to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, as well as developing two youth centres in Sharqia and Assiut,” the minister elaborated.
The new Sports Law came into force a long time ago, though clubs did not implement it as expected, how do you see that?
The clubs and companies operating in the sports sector had a period of two years since the publication of the New Sport Law to obtain licenses for clubs and sports companies in accordance with the Law 71 of 2017.
The large period given to clubs to adjust their conditions for obtaining new licenses led to a low demand for it.
Do not you think that the new law threatens national clubs and opens the door to the clubs affiliated to private companies?
The investment in national clubs depends on the management and the general assembly’s decision, as they are entitled to carry out different investment activities in the aforementioned areas.
In regard with foreign investment in the Egyptian sports sector, namely the purchase of Al-Assiouty Sports Club to be renamed Pyramids FC, I see that the ministry’s dealing with foreign investors comes in accordance with the Egyptian laws, asserting that the ministry encourages investments that aim to develop the sports sector, with no discrimination between investors.
What are the obstacles facing sports investment in Egypt?
The biggest obstacle facing sports investment is the absence of investment and professional thought, whereby the ministry focuses on raising awareness of the great value of professionalism to enable sports to be a source of income, he said.
The ministry will hold meetings with investors to encourage them to enter sports investment, the minister added.
Is the ministry’s budget for sports investment suit the new plans?
There will be a significant increase in the budget of the Investment Directorate in the Ministry of Sports, and we always work on the development of the sector.
I aim to add the investment opportunities in the sports sector within the state investment plan, especially, that sports must become a source of income.
What are the most important projects targeted by the ministry in the coming period?
The ministry currently studies its assets to start developing them, including stadiums, playgrounds or swimming pools. In parallel ministry’s investment plan includes the development of the Cairo International Stadium and evaluation of the current management and returns in preparation to launch a large investment project, in cooperation with the private sector companies.
Are there any amendments to the new Sports Law?
The ministry is currently consulting with the Egyptian Olympic committee on the amendment of the Sport Law to suit the new investment plans.
What is the impact of the economic reform programme on the sports sector?
The country’s economic reform programme has a positive impact on the sports sector, because all the newly established projects have sports facilities, which increase the need for the private sector to manage and develop them.
You promised previously that Egypt aims to host the 2030 World Cup, are we ready for that?
The ministry will need to establish new six-eight world-class stadiums, as means for Egypt to host the prestigious event.
“We have a large transport network and quality residences, but we still lack world-class stadiums, therefore we have a plan for this goal,” he said.