PORT SAID, Egypt (Reuters) - Football returned to the Port Said Stadium, site of the death of 72 people in Egypt’s worst violence at a soccer stadium, for the first time since the 2012 disaster on Saturday.
Home club Al Masry beat Green Buffaloes of Zambia 4-0 on the opening weekend of action in this year’ African Confederation Cup.
A restricted crowd of 10,000 people were allowed into the stadium amid tight security and a heavy army presence as the Egyptian government relaxed restrictions on spectators attending local matches.
“We have been waiting for this for a long while. We had nothing to do with what happened. Port Said is innocent from what happened. But thank God,” said 32-year-old home fan Mahran Al Sayed.
Al Masry supporters had been accused of inciting the violence with many of the dead crushed when panicked fans tried to escape from the stadium after a post-match pitch invasion by home supporters. Others fell or were thrown from terraces.
Witnesses said the rioting broke out after fans of opponents Al Ahly, Egypt’s best-supported club, unfurled banners insulting the local team.
Local police were accused of standing aside while the visiting supporters were attacked and last year Egypt’s top court upheld death sentences for 10 men for their part in disaster.
Soccer matches were often a flashpoint for violence in Egypt but since 2012 successive governments have curbed the number of people allowed to attend games.
Egypt’s Sports Minister Khaled Abdel Aziz announced on Tuesday that that policy would be changed to allow a maximum of 10,000 in to watch local league games.
Fan clubs known as Ultras were outlawed in 2015.
Relations between the Ultras and security forces have been tense for four years after the fans played a key role in the 18 days of street protests that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town,; Editing by Ed Osmond