Macau national team footballers reacted angrily on Sunday after football chiefs in the city said they will not send a team to Sri Lanka for a World Cup qualifying match this week, citing security fears following the deadly Easter suicide attacks.
The decision also sparked a rebuke from Sri Lanka’s football authorities who insisted the country was safe for international matches and that their team had a right to play on home soil.
Macau had been due to play Sri Lanka on Tuesday in the second leg of a qualifying first-round clash.
But in a statement the Macau Football Association (MFA) said it had decided not to send a team “due to the recent terrorist attack in Sri Lanka and for the sake of the team’s personal safety”.
Later on Sunday, a group of Macau national team players released a joint statement saying they would travel to Sri Lanka independently of the FA if the decision was not reversed.
A meeting between the Sri Lankan and Macanese football associations is due to take place on Monday. If no Macau representative appears, they will forfeit the tie.
Tiny Macau, ranked 183 in the latest Fifa world rankings, lead the tie 1-0 after last Thursday’s first leg at home, their first World Cup Qualifying win in almost 20 years.
The MFA said on Saturday night it had asked Fifa, the Asian Football Confederation and Sri Lanka’s footballing authorities to switch the match to a neutral venue but the request had yet to be granted.
“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 and we cannot afford to take the risk to put our players’ lives in danger,” the statement said.
Macau national team player Lei Ka-him said in a statement on Facebook on Saturday night that a host of national team players would withdraw from consideration for the national team if they weren’t permitted to play the second leg.
The decision is a blow for sport in Sri Lanka, a country that has long hosted international sporting matches but is currently reeling from a series of coordinated Islamist suicide attacks against churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed more than 250 people.
The Football Federation of Sri Lanka said it had “fulfilled all security requirements” with Fifa and the AFC ahead of the match and noted that China had relaxed the travel advisories sparked by the Easter attack.
“It is paramount important for any national team to play in their home soil in front of home fans and especially in Fifa Official Qualifiers which fall only every four years,” the federation said in a statement, adding it hoped Macau would change its mind. (Courtesy South China Morning Post)