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Saudi Sports Minister Turki al-Sheikh to quit Egyptian football

Controversial figure's decision comes after being subjected to a plethora of derogatory chants by supporters of al-Ahly FC this weekend
Turki al-Sheikh with the Saudi national team (Reuters).

Saudi minister of sports and adviser to the crown prince Turki al-Sheikh has decided to quit Egyptian football, his club Pyramids FC announced on Tuesday.

On Monday, Sheikh posted a message on Facebook saying that he was considering withdrawal from Egyptian sports investments:

Translation:“I am seriously considering pulling out my investment into Egyptian sports… Strange attacks from all sides and stories every day… why the headache?”

The news broke on Pyramids TV, the football club's in-house channel, when host Medhat Shalaby said the Saudi minister had decided to “withdraw permanently” from his new enterprise, and promised to secure other contracts for the team players, as well as the channel’s staff, whose current contracts will not be terminated.

Sheikh surprised Egyptian football fans in June with his controversial acquisition of a small football club, al-Assiuty. He rebranded the team into Pyramids FC, which is now sat at the summit of the Egyptian Premier League table in its first season.

Sheikh’s decision to quit the team may be linked to derogatory chants made by al-Ahly fans in their game against the Guinean Horoya FC on Saturday, during the second leg of the African Champions League quarterfinals. Ahly defeated Horoya 4-0.

The chants came against the backdrop of disagreements between al-Ahly and Sheikh regarding the timing of the club's games at the Saudi-Egyptian Super Cup, which the minister relaunched after a 15-year hiatus.

In one of their chants, the fans downplayed the importance of the Super Cup, saying the African Cup was more important. They also insulted Sheikh’s mother using abusive language.

The video of the chanting was criticised by Sheikh’s Saudi supporters, who launched a hashtag showing solidarity with him.

Translation: We are confident that Egyptian law will protect the private life [of Sheikh] and punish the offenders, especially as his excellency enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Translation: Turki al-Sheikh’s exit from Egyptian sports has always been a popular Saudi desire. But he resisted it because he wanted to exert an effort through the Arab Federation or as an investor to reinvigorate the Egyptian sports scene. It is regrettable that some parties led to Egypt’s loss of an opportunity for genuine investment that would have encouraged others [to follow suit].

Sheikh is the former honorary president of al-Ahly, a position he quit in May after a row with club officials.

Egyptian sports journalist and commentator Ahmed Saad told Middle East Eye the decision may be an attempt to defuse the anger of the al-Ahly fans.

Saad highlighted that al-Ahly has qualified for the semi-final of the African Champions League, so has at least two high-profile continental matches during which their fans could vent their disdain for Sheikh.

In fact, Saad said, the chants could develop and begin to target Sheikh's patron, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would cause Egyptian leaders severe embarrassment.

Though the Egyptian Football Association has the ability to place controls over crowds in its domestic games, noticeably restricting the number of fans attending league matches, it has no authority on continental matches.

Saad added that al-Ahly fans are also wary of the increasingly amicable relations between Sheikh and Mortada Mansour, the president of their main rival Zamalek.

In an interview with Pyramids TV on Tuesday, Mansour urged Sheikh to reverse his decision, condemning the al-Ahly chants as “an orchestrated and funded sham that has tarnished the image of the great al-Ahly team and its fans”.

“I want you to stay… and I want Pyramids to continue playing,” he said in a message to Sheikh.