LONDON – Warning that soccer must not be "abused by those who mean evil," the president of the sport's governing body demanded detailed reasons from the Egyptian federation Thursday for the stadium riot that killed at least 74 people.
Sepp Blatter called for action to prevent a repeat of the post-match violence in a letter to the Egyptian Football Association, whose board was subsequently fired by the prime minister and its members referred for questioning by prosecutors.
The deadliest soccer stadium disaster since 1996 unfolded in the Mediterranean city of Port Said on Wednesday night following Al-Masry's league match against Al-Ahly, with fans crushed to death while others were fatally stabbed or suffocated in a stampede.
During an emergency parliamentary session in Cairo on Thursday, several lawmakers said some police and military failed to intervene, allowing the riot to happen to stoke insecurity in Egypt since the fall of leader Hosni Mubarak a year ago. Al-Masry manager Kamal Abu Ali resigned after the match, contending it was a "plot to topple the state."
"I fully understand the country's shock and anger that such a disaster could have come to pass," Blatter wrote to EFA President Samir Zaher on Thursday. "Today is a black today for football and we must take steps to ensure that such a catastrophe never happens again. Football is a force for good, and we must not allow it to be abused by those who mean evil.
"As discussed on the telephone this morning, I await further news from you concerning the circumstances of this tragedy."
Shortly after Zaher spoke to Blatter he was fired by Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri along with the rest of the board. The move could be seen as government interference in a national federation's affairs and a violation of FIFA statutes. FIFA would not comment on that Thursday.
"As always, FIFA stands by your side at this difficult time and is ready to provide you with any support you may need," Blatter wrote to the Egyptian federation before the government intervention.
The melee erupted when 13,000 Al-Masry fans stormed the field following a 3-1 win against 36-time Egyptian champion Al-Ahly. Al-Masry supporters armed with knives, sticks and stones chased players and fans from Al-Ahly, who ran toward the exits and up the stands to escape, according to witnesses.
"It saddens me to witness such violence in a sport that has the power to unify nations and overcome differences," said FIFA Vice President Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan. "I have confidence in the Egyptian football family and their ability to recover from this tragedy and regain their strength."
Al-Ahly players Mohamed Aboutrika, Emad Moteab and Mohamed Barakat — all on the Egypt national team — announced they are retiring from soccer after witnessing the rampage.
Although Wednesday's clashes did not appear to be the fault of Al-Ahly fans, its renowned Ultras — or hardline supporters — have often fought with police or opposing fans, and violence is often associated with their games.
Al-Ahly was forced by Africa's soccer confederation to play in the continental club competition behind closed doors after trouble with its fans.