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Meet Egypt’s Christian soccer team

As Christian football players continue to be rejected from clubs playing in the Egyptian league, the Je Suis team opened the door for these talents to continue doing what they are passionate about.

Je Suis (I Am) Club is the first football team established initially to fight sectarian discrimination against real talents in Egypt. Mina Bendary, a Christian soccer player, is the founder of the team. Although Bendary is a talented soccer player, he suffered repeated rejections from clubs in the Alexandria governorate.

He succeeded in playing on the Alexandrian Union Club in 2015, but he was asked to play under the name "Ibrahim" because Mina is known as a Christian name. He played with the club for six months and was registered with the Egyptian Football Association.

Bendary told Al-Monitor, “The turning point in my life was when my colleagues and the church blamed me for accepting this situation (changing my name), so I decided to have my own team to embrace the talents of Christian players who are suffering from the same problem and to help them follow their dreams.”

“This problem is not a new one; it has been there for decades and there are no legal rules stating this frankly. Sports are meant to be for all people despite color, race, sex or even religion,” he said.

He added, “I decided to retire playing [football], as I refused to play for a club under another name. And then I thought about establishing a new club that does not have tight constraints to join.”

Je Suis Club was established in 2016 to help mainly Christians to play soccer without any barriers and so that they can keep their names and identities. But afterward, it also opened the door for Muslims who had trouble getting on to one of the main teams in the league.

The team also attracted women who play in the Churches Football League — a friendly, symbolic league through which the churches’ teams compete against each other. These female players also wanted to have more prominent chances to show their talents. Recently, in December 2020, the U20 Women’s Egyptian National Football Team was subjected to a wave of bullying and sexual harassment on social media platforms after their victory in a match against the Lebanese national team.

The main Egyptian soccer clubs such as El-ZamalekEl-Ahly, El-Ismaili, the Alexandrian Union and others have only Muslim players among their teams. Je Suis Club has to make a deal with one of the main clubs registered with the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to play under its name in the 4th level Egyptian League. The Egyptian League only allows clubs that are registered in the EFA to play in the league, so Je Suis Club has to find a registered team to play with in the league. Clubs such as Egyptian Alexandrian Club Victoria and Yousr Alexandria receive a certain amount of money to let the players of Je Suis Club play under their umbrella. If any club receives a prize or financial reward, it will not be divided between it and Je Suis.

“I am dreaming of the day that I get my club officially registered and well-known among people. I have been playing for three years under the umbrella of other clubs in the league, and I cannot receive an appropriate financial reward to develop my team,” Bendary said.

Forming a club is a long journey requiring a lot of money and effort. According to Article 106 of Sports Law No. 71 of 2017, the club must have a minimum of 100 members, a fixed headquarters and places suitable for activities; the total area of the club must be more than 1,500 square meters.

The monthly fee required to join the team is 150 Egyptian pounds (around $9) from each player. The fees help to pay for court rental costs and equipment. Je Suis Club has not received any funds from a church or government entity since it was formed. It initially kicked off with only 20 players and now includes nearly 140 players. The 20 who played once the team was established were from the Alexandria governorate. After that, the reputation of the club encouraged Christian candidates from other governorates across Egypt to join in and chase their dreams.

Mina Samir, who plays with Je Suis Club, told Al-Monitor, “I started to lose my passion for soccer — which is the most important thing in my life — because of the several rejections I received from different clubs. The problem starts when they hear my name, which is known to be Christian. Je Suis was a new ray of hope for me, and it gave me the chance to play in the league. Still, there are a lot of rights that we require.”

Although Christians are gaining more rights in Egypt — mainly in parliament and government, among other sectors — they continue to face some difficulties and discrimination in sports.

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