Egypt’s soccer fans call foul on Africa Cup tickets

Several Egyptian activists on social media, sports critics and public figures have rallied against the ticket prices of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

al-monitor Egyptian fans cheer their team, Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria, Egypt, Nov. 16, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

May 23, 2019

Around 35,000 Egyptian soccer fans paid hefty sums to travel to Moscow last year to see their team defeated in its first game of the World Cup. Ever since, the fans have pinned their hopes on the Africa Cup of Nations, which will take place in five cities around Egypt on June 21-July 19.

But any hope that they can afford buying a ticket to a game was shattered with the announcement of the games' ticket prices, which are well above what the average Egyptian can pay in a country where per capita income is $200 per month.

The organizing committee of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), affiliated with the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), announced April 21 that the ticket prices for the games played by the Egyptian national team would be 200 Egyptian pounds ($11.80) for third-category tickets, 400 pounds ($23.50) for second-category tickets and 600 pounds ($35.50) for first-category tickets. A presidential box would cost  as high as 2,500 pounds ($148). Tickets for games of the other teams would cost slightly less: 100 pounds ($5.90) for third-category tickets, 300 pounds ($17.80) for second-category tickets and 500 pounds ($29.60) for first-category tickets.

Following protests from social media activists, sports critics and opinion-makers, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the EFA announced April 30 that it would intervene to get the organizing committee to review ticket prices.

Two weeks later, the committee announced the final ticket prices for Egypt's games: 150 pounds ($8.90) for third category, 400 pounds ($23.70) for second category and between 500 pounds ($29.50) and 800 pounds ($46.9) for first category. 

Ibrahim al-Gezeri, an engineer and soccer fan, told Al-Monitor that the changes made little difference. “The organizing committee did not offer new prices and a reduction of 50 pounds for third-category tickets is not enough — far less than what we expected,” he said, pointing out that the 150 pound tickets would only be available for group games.

The other games — such as the finals — could be more than double those prices.

He said that the ticket prices had considerably risen from the 2006 Afcon that was also hosted by Egypt. “[Then] the price of third-category tickets in the final did not exceed 50 pounds. Here, even the group game tickets are triple the price compared to 2006," he complained.

Mohamed Ahmed, an accountant and soccer fan, said that the ticket prices aren't high in light of the annual inflation rates since 2006. “Most of the prices of services and products in Egypt have increased at the same rate and the same percentage. Plus the state has borne a significant financial burden in the development of stadiums and infrastructure in record time between January and June 2019,” he told Al-Monitor.

A marketing executive who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said that he suspected that the reason behind the high ticket prices was security. "High ticket prices will prevent the youth and the poor from attending the games. That may also keep the Ultras group [Egypt’s die-hard soccer fans whose gatherings often turn violent] away from the games. The state believes that the poor and the youth are more likely to participate in protests, especially since several youth groups on social media have called for exploiting crowded events to demonstrate against the regime.”

In April, a Facebook page called "Get down, encourage Egypt" put up various posts that called on Egyptians to protest against the regime during Egypt's Afcon games. Some claimed that the security forces would not use violence in the presence of the international media, while others said that the security forces would find it hard to distinguish between protesters and fans in a large crowd, as both carry flags when congregating.

However, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Mansour, a retired officer and security expert, told Al-Monitor that it was naive to think that the government raised ticket prices to prevent anyone from attending games simply because of calls to protest during Afcon. He said that the Facebook posts calling for people to come out to protest did so for street demonstrations, not for protests in the soccer stadiums. The stadiums are expected to be under tight security, he noted, adding that the reasons for the price hike are economic.

A source from the organizing committee told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the ticket prices were raised to prevent black market sales. He said that those active on the black market had bought cheap tickets in large quantities, and then resold them at more expensive prices through informal outlets.

He noted that the black market sellers sold third-category tickets for the 2006 Afcon for more than 200 pounds. “There was a large turnout of fans, which means the new prices are still affordable to Egyptian fans,” he said.

"The elimination of the black market and limiting ticket sales to the official channels ensure the security in the stadiums. The official outlets get a copy of the ID of each ticket buyer and thus it becomes easy to track rioters in the stadiums,” he added.

Despite the sharp differences in views on ticket prices, Amr Darwish, a former sports journalist and critic at Al-Ahram Sport, told Al-Monitor that he was confident that the Egyptian public would participate in large numbers to root for the Egyptian team. "This is because many fans look back with nostalgia to the 2006 Afcon [when Egypt beat Ivory Coast in the final] and they hope for a victory that compensates for the defeats in 2018," he said.

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