World Cup qualifier to take place in Maldives despite state of emergency

World Cup qualifier to take place in Maldives despite state of emergency
November 08 12:06 2015

A FIFA World Cup qualifying match between the Maldives and Hong Kong will take place as scheduled in the capital Malé on November 12 despite the ongoing state of emergency.

Raising concerns over player safety, the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) last week suggested postponing the game or switching it to a different venue.

But the Hong Kong team has now decided to travel for the game following assurances from the Maldivian authorities.

HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak told the South China Morning Post that the Maldivian defence ministry has assured the Hong Kong team’s safety to FIFA “as the state of emergency is declared only to cope with the demonstration in their country this weekend.”

“As Fifa has endorsed the match, we now need to go or we will be fined and deducted points if not,” he said.

“The Maldives consulate in Hong Kong also informed us the situation is not threatening as Cathay Pacific still fly to the country.”

President Abdulla Yameen had declared a nationwide 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday, citing security threats posed by missing weapons and explosives.

Yameen issued a decree suspending several constitutional rights, such as the right to freedom of assembly, two days ahead of a mass protest planned by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

A girls soccer tournament organised by the German embassy, scheduled to take place on November 21, was meanwhile cancelled due to the state of emergency. The Football Association of Maldives (FAM) cancelled two Dhivehi premier league games on the day the state of emergency was declared.

But the youth and sports ministry issued a statement on Thursday saying that all sports tournaments in the country will continue as planned.

Despite raising fears of imminent attacks, the government also insists the Maldives is safe for tourists.

“The security of our resorts and islands is not under threat and we have received no evidence to suggest otherwise,” the foreign ministry said.

The UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Taiwan have issued travel warnings advising tourists in the Maldives to avoid protests and gatherings.

A spokesperson from FIFA, world football’s governing body, meanwhile told AFP that the decision to go ahead with the match was made “following governmental security guarantees”.

The match was previously scheduled for 9:00pm on November 12. But the FAM has changed the kickoff time to 3:50pm at FIFA’s request.

HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe told the AFP yesterday that correspondence between the Maldivian authorities and FIFA is “reassuring.”

“Unless there are any further developments, the likelihood is that we will be going as planned,” he said.

The Maldives was also forced to play both legs of its FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against China away from home after Independence Day celebrations left the national stadium’s pitch damaged beyond use.