“Systematic discrimination” is preventing Coptic Christians from participating in professional sport in Egypt, according to a feature article on the Egyptian website MadaMasr: ‘Copts and Egypt’s national game – We’ll call you back later‘.
Though Copts make up around 10 per cent of Egypt’s population, not one of the 122 athletes to compete for Egypt at the 2016 Olympic Games was a Copt. Coptic Solidarity filed a complaint with the International Olympic Committee, saying the absence of Copts was the “product of deep-rooted discrimination that exists in the administration of athletics and football in Egypt, and in Egyptian society at large.”
There has been just one famous Coptic football player, notes MadaMasr – Hany Ramzy, whose name is mentioned whenever there is a complaint of discrimination against Copts. But he was the “exception that proves the rule”, according to the blog, ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’.
“There have been no other Christian players in the national team” and “few in Egypt’s local teams”, notes MadaMasr.
“We face discrimination on all levels,” says one Copt, Mina Milad. “Football is a popular game and it is widely believed that Copts should not get the fame and wealth that comes with being a successful player. We are always confronted with coaches who are extremists. This is not just limited to small clubs; big clubs do the same, too.”
Another Copt, Andrew Rafaat, says: “I completely lost hope of playing in any of the mainstream sports clubs in Egypt, he says. “If I want to play, there is no option but the church’s sporting activities … [which] rarely attracts media attention”.
Remon Zakhry, a Coptic footballer who plays for a small club in Assiut, Upper Egypt, recalls the moment he nearly joined Second Division club El Gouna FC.
“I was sitting in a meeting with the club coach, Ismail Youssef, to sign my contract,” he says. “I presented my ID to complete the contract and Youssef saw my name. He was surprised to learn that Remon is my real name and not a nickname. He returned my ID and left the room. The contractor attending the meeting told me later that Youssef doesn’t like to work with Christians.” (MadaMasr notes that Youssef “denied discriminating against Zakhry … saying that players usually use religious discrimination as justification for their poor talent”.)
“Christians do not play football in Egypt,” says Zakhry. “This is the first thing I would always hear when I’d apply to play football in clubs.”