CAIRO: When a gaggle of Egyptian celebrities, including an outspoken belly dancer, visited the national football team’s hotel ahead of a crunch World Cup match this week, fans back home feared the worst.
Similar visits before big games in the past had led to disappointing results on the pitch, and so it proved yet again. This time Egypt were humbled 3-1 by the host nation Russia — a defeat that sent them crashing out of the tournament.
Before the World Cup, Egypt were tipped to qualify from a group that also includes Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. But after losing 1-0 to Uruguay in their opening fixture, they needed to get something out of their second game on Tuesday.
In a publicity stunt before the match, state-owned telecoms company WE flew the celebrities to the team’s hotel in Saint Petersburg. Among those who made the trip were actors Sherif Mounir and Ahmed Rizk, actress Bosy Shalaby and belly dancer Fifi Abdou, who made headlines recently saying she supported fuel hikes as part of the government’s austerity measures.
The debacle has infuriated ordinary fans who were hoping the World Cup would provide them with some much-needed joy amid the harsh austerity program that has left many people in Cairo struggling to make ends meet.
With their dreams of football glory in tatters, supporters have blamed the publicity-hungry celebrities as well as the underperforming players.
“The scene at the hotel was horrible. It’s true that none of the Egypt players came down to meet them, but their presence in such large numbers was a distraction,” said Ramy Gamal, 30, who was at the hotel at the time.
“All they care about is taking pictures and posting them on social media; they are not even interested in football. We want real fans to get behind the team, not actors and singers.”
Mahmoud El-Hussein, a 47-year-old fan, said: “What WE did was a provocation to all Egyptians. At a time of economic struggle, we see a state-owned company organize a trip for rich people who can afford a hundred trips like that.”