Egypt’s national football team prepares for its second match of the World Cup, against hosts Russia.

As Egypt’s national football team prepares for its second match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup tonight – against hosts Russia in St. Petersburg – long-standing discrimination issues in Egyptian football have surfaced, with the country’s sizeable Christian minority largely excluded.

AFP last month spoke with Mina Bendary, 22, who said his Coptic Christian name was an “insurmountable barrier” to the pursuit of a career in professional football.

Instead, he established the “Je Suis” (“I am”) academy for young Christian footballers, aged 15 to 17, in Alexandria three years ago in order to offer them an alternative pathway.

Bendary explained that Christian footballers “get rejected from teams they apply to as soon as they utter their names, regardless of their performance”, saying it had happened to him on several occasions and that he and other Christians had been asked to play under a Muslim name.

One of the club’s members, 17-year-old Mina Samir, shared his experience at a high-profile club:

“After I was picked in the playoffs, my coach asked about my name, and I told him ‘Mina’ and he lost his enthusiasm telling me that they will be calling me,” Mina told AFP. The coach never contacted Mina.

Although Copts make up around 10 per cent of the country’s population, the doors of Egyptian professional football remain shut to them. As World Watch Monitor reported last year, the absence of Copts is the “product of deep-rooted discrimination that exists in the administration of athletics and football in Egypt, and in Egyptian society at large”, read a complaint to the International Olympic Committee, after no Copt took part in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Speaking with Egypt’s DMC channel, former Egypt international Ahmed Hossam, better known as Mido, said in April that Egyptian football embraces “some people who have a lot of discrimination that they do not hide… How is it possible that in the history of Egyptian football there have only been five Christian players in the top level?” he said.

He added that he was concerned to hear that Christians would stop playing football at a young age because of discrimination coming from “some coaches”.

But the Egyptian Football Association denied discriminating along religious lines, with one board members saying: “The first thing we learn in the association [is that there is] no discrimination.”