“I don’t know how a ticket to a football game could be more expensive than a spectator’s life,” Ahly Club director Wael Gomma said after more than 22 football fans were killed trying to enter Sunday’s match between Zamalek and ENPPI.
As news of the tragedy circulated on Sunday night, rhetorical questions poured forth balancing the price of a ticket with the price of a life. But even more pressing is the question of what led to the brutal violence, in the first place — a question that has yet to be definitively answered.
The Interior Ministry’s official narrative is that clashes erupted when a number of football fans attempted to enter the Air Force Stadium without tickets to the match.
“Security forces disperse Ultras White Knights trying to enter the Air Force Stadium without tickets,” the ministry wrote on its official Facebook page after the clashes started.
However, the Ultras White Knights — the Zamalek team’s hardcore fan club — accuse Zamalek Club chairman Mortada Mansour of orchestrating the deadly violence.
“Mortada Mansour bought all the tickets before the game in coordination with the Interior Ministry,” the group wrote on its official Facebook page. “He called [television presenter] Medhat Shalaby before the game, and told him that there is a surprise awaiting the White Knights today.”
Responding to those accusations, Mansour claimed “every single person who had a ticket entered the stadium, take my word for it,” and went on to blame the ultras themselves for planning the violence to create havoc ahead of the parliamentary elections.
He made the comments during a phone-in with Ahmed Moussa’s “Ala Mas’oulity” show, broadcast on the privately owned satellite channel Sada al-Balad.
A frustrated Mansour then declared that “there is no such thing as the ultras. They belong in prison,” in another phone-in with Wael al-Ibrashy on the privately owned Dream TV satellite channel.
“Before you cry over your son because he’s in prison or because he’s hurt, teach him the meaning of a nation,” Mansour warned the parents of Sunday’s victims.
Similarly, Mansour’s son, lawyer and Zamalek Club board member Ahmed Mortada, wrote on his Facebook page, “Do you not understand that you have to buy a ticket? Why do you not understand that you cannot force your way in? Please realize that you will not attend any Zamalek game without a ticket.”
“You know why you don’t get it. It’s because you are a liar, and have nothing to do with sports or Zamalek,” Mortada concluded.
He later deleted the irate post.
Mortada claimed that the Zamalek Club printed 10,000 tickets for Sunday’s match in a phone interview with Seif Zaher on the “Studio al-Hayah” talk show, broadcast on the privately owned Al Hayah satellite channel. However, only 6,000 to 7,000 of those tickets were sold, he said.
When asked why the remaining tickets weren’t sold, Mortada claimed, “It was our first experience [selling tickets] after three years, and we forgot how spectators enter.” He said that in the future, the club would ensure that tickets would only be sold at “announced” places.
Fans were banned from attending football games following the 2012 Port Said tragedy that left more than 70 Ahly fans dead. The Egyptian Football Association reversed the ban in January, but put limits on the number of spectators allowed to attend a given match. According to its new bylaws, some stadiums are allowed to host a maximum of 10,000 spectators, while other stadiums cap out at 5,000.
However, Mortada’s story was slightly different when he spoke with the privately owned channel ONtv Live. In that interview, he said that of the 10,000 tickets, 5,000 were put aside as free invitations, and only the remaining 5,000 were put up for sale. Those free invitations were distributed to Zamalek Club fans, including the Ultras White Knights, he claimed.
But in the same interview, Mortada said 8,000 spectators were in the stadium that night, and he found roughly 1,000 non-ticket holders waiting outside when he arrived for the match. He claimed that he asked the security forces to allow them to enter.
Not only did Mortada contradict himself in these interviews, he also contradicted his father’s version of events. Mansour suggested that whoever held a ticket entered the match, while his son said that only 8,000 fans were in the stadium.
Like that of his son, Mansour’s story was subject to alterations. In his phone-in interview with Sada al-Balad, he changed his earlier statements by claiming that 5,000 tickets were distributed to fans and the remaining 5,000 were sold to club members.
Last Thursday, Mansour issued a statement that Zamalek fans would be invited to the game for free in gratitude for their support, and entrance to the match would be limited to those with the free invitations.
The narratives put forth by the Interior Ministry, Mansour and Mortada all occlude the testimonies of spectators and eyewitnesses who posted their accounts on social media. According to these statements, hundreds of fans were not able to enter the stadium even though they had tickets, while security forces allowed several others to enter without tickets.
But security forces did not distinguish between who had tickets and who didn’t when they launched their assault on all the fans gathered at the metal passageway leading to Gate 4, several eyewitnesses claimed.
For now, Mansour and his son hold the power over how the story of the tickets will be told, until official investigations look into the matter. But it remains to be seen if these investigations will reveal the truth behind the tragedy that resulted in the death of 22 young men who believed that “football is for the people.”