Egypt's Coptic Christians claim they're being shut out of football

Egypt's Coptic Christians claim they're being shut out of football
By Mark Armstrong
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Members of Egypt's minority Christian community say they face discrimination when it comes to football


Many call it the People's Game, but in Egypt there are claims that football is not for everyone. Coptic Christians say they're being shut out of the sport in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Football coach Mina Bindari felt so strongly about the issue that he set up his own "Je Suis" football academy for Copts, to provide them with a path to advance in the sport.

"We had a problem," explained Mina. "When Christians in Egypt try to join clubs, they get rejected. When I went to play at the church, I played in tournaments organised by the church and things like that. I didn't know why I grew up only playing at church. Why can't I be like the people I see on television or my friends from school who play for this club or that? I realised that this is not my own fault. It turns out this has been a problem in Egypt for over 50 years."

Copts make up around 10 percent of the population. A handful do play for some smaller Egyptian clubs but there are no Copts playing in the national team.

Only two have played at international level over the years. The last was Ashraf Youssef who appeared in a few matches in the '90s, but officials deny there's any discrimination.

"We never ask whether you are Muslim or Christian, or what your religion is," said Karam Kordy, a member of the Egyptian Football Federation. "This kind of stuff doesn't exist. All the time, we have had Christian players surface and excel and play in the Egyptian national team. And we were all cheering for them."

Philopater Khairy, a 15-year-old Je Suis member, said he chose the academy "due to the issue of racism in other big clubs".

"If someone goes for trials in a big club and gets rejected, his dream is totally lost. The idea of the academy is really nice," Khairy said.

"There is one club, without mentioning names, that used to call me Messi on the field," said 18-year-old Mina Ayman, who plays at Je Suis.

When the club realised his real name was Mina, a common Coptic name, he says was asked to leave and never called back.

The fans watching Egypt play in the African Cup of Nations this month may be cheering, but they won't be cheering for Copts - there aren't any in the team.

Those young Egyptians dreaming of becoming the country's next Mohamed Salah could have to overcome more than just the opposing team.

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