The coach of Egypt's national soccer team says he only wants players who observe Islam and the selection of his squad is based equally on religious piety and skill.
The comments by Hassan Shehata, published Thursday in Egyptian newspapers, show how sports and religion are increasingly mixing in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of some 80 million.
The intrusion of religion into sports is part of the country's gradual movement toward religious conservatism over the last few decades, with more people praying at mosques, most women adopting the Islamic veil in public and diminishing tolerance for secular Muslims or minority Christians. There are no Christians in the current national soccer squad.
For years, Egyptian athletes have demonstrated their religious piety in front of fans and the media - kneeling down to offer a prayer of thanks after scoring a goal or winning a game, or praying before games to implore God to come to their team's aid.
But Shehata's comments take religion in sports to a whole new level.
He was quoted by several Cairo newspapers as saying skill alone won't guarantee anyone a place on the national team, which is currently defending its African continental title in Angola.