Egypt still hopes to host World Cup

Egypt may be considered an outsider in the race to host the 2010 football World Cup, but the casual visitor to Cairo could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

About 180,000 people gathered at Giza to support the cup bid
About 180,000 people gathered at Giza to support the cup bid

Most of the Egyptian capital’s main streets are decorated with flags and billboards carrying the bid’s logo; the eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian deity, and an image of a football coloured black, red and white, representing the country’s national flag.


“Trust us, and we will give you the best World Cup in history,” reads one billboard hung near Tahrir Square, one of the city’s busiest areas.


All state-run newspapers have devoted sections to covering the bid’s latest news, and fans have launched email campaigns addressing FIFA, the world football’s governing body, to stake their country’s claim.


“We deserve to host this tournament,” Muhammad Salih, a 27-year-old waiter says. “Egyptians are crazy about football. FIFA won’t find better supporters and a better country to host the event.”


FIFA’s 24-member executive committee will choose the host nation on 15 May. Apart from Egypt, South Africa and Morocco are bidding to become the first African country to organise the cup, while Libya and Tunisia have submitted a joint bid. 


Ongoing efforts


And with less than two weeks before the vote, the Egyptians are still rallying the support of the committee’s members.


“I think our efforts in
the last few months
are really bearing
fruits. Many people
are impressed”

Muhammad al-Siyaji,
bidding committee head

Earlier this week, a delegation travelled to the Caribbean to meet Jack Warner, president of the Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) who is an executive committee member.


The delegation gave a presentation to the CONACAF congress in Grenada.


Another delegation is scheduled to travel to Malaysia next week to woo votes from the Asian Football Confederation, headed by Qatar‘s Muhammad Bin Hammam, who is also a FIFA vice-president.  


“I think our efforts in the last few months are really bearing fruits,” says Muhammad al-Siyaji, head of the bidding committee. “Many people are impressed.”


The public mood in Cairo is equally upbeat. On Friday, the bid’s organisers built a 15m pyramid made of paper to support messages gathered from 20 million people nationwide.


Al-Siyaji said about 180,000 people attended the ceremony that was held next to the Giza pyramids and featured pop star Muhammad Munir.


Long history


Egyptians argue that being one of the most influential nations in the history of African football should give them the upper hand in the race.


The logo can be seen on nearlyall of Cairo’s main streets

The logo can be seen on nearly
all of Cairo’s main streets

Introduced in the early years of the 20th century by the British occupation, football has a huge following in the country.


In 1934, Egypt became the first African country to take part in the World Cup, and it is one of the founding members of the African Football Confederation, CAF.


“We have a long history in football, an ideal climate and a great geographical position. All this should make us the front-runners,” says Ashraf Taha, a 38-year-old owner of an advertising agency  


Tough fight


Earlier this week, a FIFA technical evaluation report said South Africa, Egypt and Morocco were capable of hosting the event, but put South Africa ahead of the pack, saying it has the potential to organise an excellent event.


Egypt surprisingly came ahead of four-time-bidder Morocco, with “very good” potentials. The report said Morocco can organise a very good World Cup but voiced several concerns about sports’ infrastructure and medical services. 


South Africa lost the right to host the 2006 tournament by one vote to Germany, while Morocco lost to the US, France and Germany in 1994, 1998 and 2006 respectively.


Al-Siyaji said the report’s results were “very good, especially that we are ahead of Morocco and not so far from South Africa“.


“We know the report is not binding to the executive committee members, but it’s a good indication that we are ready,” he said. “Everything will be settled on 15 May.”


Tough job: Muhammad al-Siyaji,
head of the bidding committee

The committee, headed by Belgian Football Association President Jan Peeters, said Egypt is fully committed to hosting the event, and lavished praise on the country’s wealth of history, culture and tourism.


It pointed out, however, several inconsistencies between the bidding file and what was actually presented during the inspection.


Al-Siyaji said: “All concerns will be addressed in the final presentation that each country is scheduled to give before the voting process.”


Apart from France‘s Michael Platini and Spain‘s Angel Maria Villar, who have both announced their backing of four-time bidder Morocco, the other 22 members of the committee have, in the main, kept their cards more firmly to their chest.


Hani Assal, a veteran journalist at the state-owned Arabic-language daily al-Ahram, echoed al-Siyaji’s sentiments. 


“No one can tell who is going to win, and South Africa‘s nomination to win the vote is just because they were tough competitors in the 2006 vote,” he told


Assal, however, criticised the Egyptian media for failing to “efficiently support the bid and convey the country’s readiness to host the event”.


“The Egyptian media was more concerned in rallying domestic and Arab support, which is virtually useless, and left the international arena for the western media, which is supporting South Africa,” he said.


Security concerns


Media reports argue that the lack of stability in the Middle East could damage the Egyptian bid.


Egyptians say they are ableto provide sufficient security

Egyptians say they are able
to provide sufficient security

Despite not witnessing any “terrorist attack” since the 1997 killing of some 60 foreign tourists in Luxor, Egypt is in one of the world’s most unstable regions, with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a whisker away from its north-eastern borders.


Al-Siyaji, however, slammed such reports as “baseless”, saying security is on the top of his country’s agenda.


“We receive millions of tourists every year without a single bad incident. Last week, 180,000 people gathered near the pyramids with minimal security presence. This indicates how secure this country is,” he told


Economic opportunity


Egypt has pledged a tentative budget of $1.5 billion if it is granted the right to host the event, with $865 million to be spent on building and upgrading stadiums and sports infrastructure.


And the bidding committee’s officials hope to reap a substantial economic reward.


Amr Wahbi, the campaign’s marketing manager, told that the event would create approximately 150,000 job opportunities.


“Beyond the jobs directly created by the tournament, the construction, tourism, transportation, and food and beverage sectors would all require additional manpower ahead of and during the event,” he said.


The games would provide an economic boom to the country

The games would provide an
economic boom to the country

He added that the country’s telecommunications infrastructure could make the tournament even more profitable for FIFA and its sponsors.


“Egypt has two satellites and one of the cheapest broadcast costs in the world. This should help FIFA ask for big money for TV rights, as the company that will buy these rights should find no trouble selling them and making huge profit,” he said.


The 2002 World Cup TV rights were sold at $1.07 billion, $230 million less than the 2006 rights.


Pessimism exists


Yet, despite the huge public support of the bid, some remain pessimistic.


“We are facing tough competition from two experienced nations,” said Walid al-Husayni, a sports journalist at the state-owned al-Jumhuryya newspaper, referring to South Africa and Morocco.


“Besides, our local competitions face a lot of organisational problems; how can we organise an event as big as the World Cup?” he asked.


Other people simply resort to the old conspiracy theory.


“America and Israel will never allow Egypt to host the World Cup and reap its economic benefits,” says Mahmud Salih, a 42-year-old taxi driver. “They can’t allow an Arab country to prosper.”

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