The Macau Football Association (MFA) reaffirmed during a special press conference Sunday that it has decided not to send its team to play Sri Lanka tomorrow in the second leg of a 2022 World Cup qualifying first-round clash.
The association said it could not fully ensure the safety of the 24-member team during their stay in the country which was hit by a string of deadly Easter terrorist attacks.
Shortly after the association first announced the cancellation on Saturday night, 48 local players, including U23 players and U18 players, jointly signed a petition urging the local government and the association to arrange for the team to play the second leg as initially scheduled. The petition said that if the players’ request was not accepted, they would no longer represent Macau.
Meanwhile, after the press conference by the MFA leadership, at a press conference hosted by non-establishment lawmaker Sulu Sou Ka Hou later yesterday, three Macau team players said that the 24 players slated for the match in Sri Lanka were willing to play in the country at their own peril and were ready to sign a document to that effect.
Sou is a former youth football player for Macau.
In Saturday night’s statement, the Macau Football Association said that after the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on April 21, it contacted the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFOSL) for talks on the second leg to be held in a third country. The statement said that after more than a month of talks, the Football Federation of Sri Lanka had refused to accept the Macau Football Association’s request for the match to be held elsewhere.
In Saturday’s statement, the association said, “The MFA will have to put our players’ personal safety as a priority. And, in the view of the fact that we cannot guarantee the safety of the team while they are in Sri Lanka, we cannot afford to take the risk to put our players’ lives in danger. Therefore, the MFA has made the decision not to send our team to Sri Lanka for the match scheduled for June 11.”
Saturday’s MFA statement said that it had not been an easy decision to make and the association hoped for civil society’s understanding of the matter.
Macau wins 1st leg in Zhuhai
The first leg of the Macau-Sri Lanka mach took place last Thursday. The match was held at the Zhuhai Sports Centre due to repairs at the Macau Stadium in Taipa. Macau won the first leg 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal as the first round of Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar got under way.
A total of 46 teams compete in the Asian section of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The teams ranked the last 12 in Asia – including Macau and Sri Lanka – will compete in the first round. The six winners in the first round will advance to the second round.
Shortly after the Macau Football Association announced its decision, the Football Federation of Sri Lanka said in a statement on its Facebook page that it had fulfilled all security requirements, adding that the International Federation of Association Football and the Asian Football Confederation had accepted its security plans to ensure the safety of the second-leg match.
According to the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFOSL), if the Macau team decides not to play the second leg, Sri Lanka “may advance” to the second round.
The FFOSL statement insisted that the Football Federation of Sri Lanka, in conjunction with government authorities, have made “extraordinary” security arrangements for the Macau team with the army and the police “round the clock”.
The FFOSL statement ruled out the possibility of holding the second leg in a third country. “It is paramountly important for any national team to play on their home soil in front of home fans and especially in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers which [take place] only every four years,” the statement said.
The FFOSL statement also said that “Sri Lanka is now a safer country to travel and all governments have relaxed travel advisories including China, under which Macau falls as an administrative unit.”
The FFOSL statement said that “terrorists have attacked many developed counties in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sports. Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county [and region] shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”
The FFOSL statement said that the Football Federation of Sri Lanka “remains positive to host this game and is ready to provide extraordinary support to the Macau team.”
In its statement the Football Federation of Sri Lanka said, “We are still hoping that the Macau team will come to our lovely country and look forward to receiving them at any time.”
According to the FFSOL statement, the official match coordination meeting is scheduled to be held today in Sri Lanka. If the Macau team fails to report to the meeting, the Asian Football Confederation “will make an official decision”, the statement said, adding that if the Macau team doesn’t show up for the game, Sri Lanka “may advance” to the second round “according to the regulations”.
During yesterday’s press conference at the Macau Stadium, the Macau Football Association reiterated its decision not to send its team to Sri Lanka after taking the players’ personal safety as its top priority into account. The press conference was chaired by Chong Coc Veng, who heads the association’s administrative board.
Chong said that all the decisions had been made based on the team’s safety as a priority. Chong said that his association would not take the risk of putting the players’ lives in danger when his association could not fully guarantee their safety.
Chong also said that during the recent FIFA Congress his association’s representatives had failed to persuade the International Federation of Association Football and the Asian Football Confederation for the second leg to be held elsewhere.(Macaunews)