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Friday, April 29, 2011
Iranian Football Federation (IFF) President Ali Kaffashian has denounced what he described as Saudi efforts to portray the Islamic republic as too unsafe to host Asian championship matches, according to the government-controlled Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).
"We have given a reply to claims of Arab countries and sent letters to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in which we introduced Iran as the safest country to host the matches. AFC officials have confirmed our remarks. Unfortunately, Arab countries try to attribute their insecurity to Iran," Kaffashian said.
Kaffashian was responding to a letter to the AFC sent by the Saudi Football Federation expressing concern about the security of four Saudi teams scheduled to play Asian championship matches in Iran in May.
Soccer tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia first erupted in early March when Saudi immigration authorities demanded that Tehran’s Persepolis FC soccer team, Asia’s most popular club, be fingerprinted and iris scanned upon its arrival at Jeddah airport for an Asian championship match against Al Ittihad. The Persepolis team refused what is standard procedure for all visitors to the kingdom, and was held at the airport for eight hours.
A decision by the organizers to include Abu Dhabi’s Amateur Women League in the second season of the United Arab Emirates’ soccer league competitions could see the amateur league’s majority of Emirati women players refusing to play because matches would be in the open air with male spectators.
The decision to include the amateur league intended to grow the league further on its successful debut season in which women teams played behind closed doors. Emirati women players predict that their refusal to play in front of a male audience will mean that they will be replaced by expatriates.
"The idea was to have a grassroots football league where expatriates and locals can participate together because…you have the first and second division and nothing else after that," The Gulf News quoted Eric Gottschalk, CEO of Mediapro Middle East - the ADFL's joint-organisers with Reem Investments –as telling XPRESS.
"In regards to the women's league, we talked to the [Abu Dhabi] Sports Council, to the Women's [Football] Committee here in Abu Dhabi and with Reem and Mediapro together, and then decided to host the Abu Dhabi Football League and add a women's competition because we were able to have the women play indoors.
"So we expected a lot of local women to participate and in order to get used to playing football, they requested that it would be better for them for the first season to be playing indoors. But if you look at the way football is played and the way the Sports Council is promoting women's football, the game has to be brought outside, just like it is played in the rest of the world, and also because we are trying to attract all participants in the UAE. We want to open it up, as it's a league for the UAE, not a league [only] for Abu Dhabi local women," Gottschalk said.
Shaikha Al Kaabi, the captain of Team Abu Dhabi which won the inaugural event, said the decision could backfire: "I don't believe it will be as much of a success as it has been this year. I'm expecting most of the participants will be expats, not UAE nationals. We can't play in front of men, so it helped playing in a closed area and also encouraged the girls to come and participate as well," she said.
In an apparent admission that the plan may not work, Gottschalk said the United Arab Emirates Football Association (UAEFA) could agree to have the competitive league played outdoors and a league just for the local women being played indoors.
Gottschalk said the UAEFA had agreed to the roll out of an amateur league in all seven constituents of the UAE at the beginning of the second season in October. “So the next step would be to have a league in Fujairah and a league in Dubai. And this will hopefully have men and women. I don't think that we will have a women's league in Fujariah in the first season but we will offer it and then see what the feedback is," he said.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Violent clashes during two recent Tunisian league matches has prompted the country’s soccer authority to ban fans from the rest of the season’s games.
The decision by the Tunisian Football Federation (TFF) came after militant fans stormed the pitch last Sunday during matches between Olympique Beja and AS Marsa and Club Bizertiain against CS Sfaxien.
Referees declared a strike after the incidents to demand enhanced security. The strike forced the cancellation of two league matches on Wednesday. The referees are scheduled to discuss the situation with the TFF on Thursday.
The incidents confirmed the government’s worst fears which last month only reluctantly agreed to restarting the league competition. The competition was suspended in January to prevent the pitch from becoming a rallying point for protesters who forced Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali to resign after 23 years in power. Militant soccer fans played a key role in the toppling of Ben Ali as well as in protests in Egypt that led to the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Tunisian federation said its ban on fans attending matches applied to the season’s
remaining ten matches but not to African Champions League or Confederation Cup games.
The incidents had much in common with last month’s storming of the pitch in Cairo during an African championship match between Al Zamalek FC and Club African. Police were almost absent in both games giving militant fans for the first time in years control of the stadium. In Bizerte, fans damaged stadium facilities and television cameras to protest Sfaxien’s 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes of the game.
In Cairo, the invasion was in protest against a referee decision that threatened to prevent Zamalek from advancing in the competition. The invasion followed a smaller incident in an earlier match in Tunis between Zamalek and Club African for which the Tunisian club was fined $10,000.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Bahraini authorities have detained three players in the country’s national soccer team while six clubs have withdrawn from domestic leagues following widespread anti-government protests, according to Bahrain’s governing soccer body.
The Bahrain Football Association (BFA) announcement came as a pro-democracy group, Youth of Feb. 14 Revolution, launched a Facebook campaign urging Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone not to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix until "until basic human rights and freedoms are restored." Bahrain has until May 1 to decide if it wants to reschedule the auto race, which was called off March 13 because of the unrest.
The moves against the soccer players are part of a government crackdown on dissent following protests that have resulted in journalists, bloggers, doctors, lawyers and activists being detained. More than 150 athletes, coaches and referees also have been suspended since April 5 for their alleged involvement in protests against the country's minority Sunni Muslim rulers.
BFA Vice President Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, a member of the country’s royal family, acknowledged that the three players had been detained but provided no further details. He said the clubs - two in the top division and four in the second - had withdrawn from the league, which resumed two weeks ago because of "pressure from Shiite political groups."
Al Khalifa said all could be fined for refusing to play and possibly face other sanctions, including relegation to a lower division. "Some of the clubs during the problems refrained from participating," Al Khalifa said. "We haven't suspended anyone. They are just not participating. There is a fine and punishment, of course."
A Bahraini human right group, however, said the clubs from mostly Shiite villages were suspended last week from the league for two years and fined $20,000. Along with soccer teams, the clubs sponsor a range of sports in their communities.
Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said clubs had stopped playing during the protests partly because they felt it was too dangerous and also in honour of protesters killed in the government’s brutal crackdown.
Al-Maskati said the government imposed the suspensions and fines as soon as the clubs announced that they would resume playing. "They could not work normally when protesters are killed in their villages. The authorities want to tell them that you are supporting the protests and this is the punishment. It's not fair. Just because you are a sportsman doesn't mean it's wrong to be political. Everyone in the world has ideas about something. Everyone has the right to get involved," Al-Maskati said.
Officials from three of the clubs - Al Malkiya, Al Ittihad and Sitra - confirmed the six had been fined for refusing to participate in the league and that the top two clubs, Al Malkiya and Al Shabab, were relegated and drew additional fines for refusing to take part in the GCC Club Championship.
A 34-year old Abu Dhabi-based Jordanian businessman, Hasan Abdullah Ismaik, is acquiring financially troubled second division German soccer club TSV 1860 Munich, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Mr. Ismaik’s €13 million acquisition of 49 percent of 1860 Munich would bring the club, burdened with a €14 million debt, back from the brink of bankruptcy.
If concluded, the acquisition would be the second takeover in a week by businessmen in the UAE. Dubai-based Royal Emirates Group bought Spanish La Liga club Getafe FC for an estimated €90 million.
Mr. Ismaik’s acquisition would be the first by a Gulf businessman of a club in Germany. Gulf investors have so far focused on teams in England and Spain. The proposed deal has yet to be approved by the German Football League.
Mr. Ismaik hopes to return 1860 Munich to Germany’s premier league, the Bundesliga, from which it was relegated in 2004 by investing €20 million. He is offering to pay €5 million of the club’s debt provided that creditors agree to waive some of the debt.
"We look forward to working together," Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted Mr. Ismaik as saying.
German champions in 1966, 1860 Munich were the Bavarian capital’s main club until the late 1960s when Bayern Munich began to dominate the Bundesliga.
Mr. Ismaik is reported to have made his money in real estate and contracting for major Middle Eastern oil companies.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Soccer is becoming the latest flashpoint in an escalating cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is being fuelled by anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and assertions that Iran is meddling in the internal affairs of oil-rich Gulf states.
Saudi officials and media are calling on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move Asian championship matches in Iran of four Saudi teams to a neutral third country after Iranian demonstrations in front of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic republic against the kingdom’s dispatch of troops to Bahrain. Saudi Arabia has denied Iranian claims that its troops were involved in the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Bahrain.
The Saudi Football Federation raised the kingdom’s security concerns in a letter to the AFC. At the same time, Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer called on Iran to protect its diplomats. “We hope that these continuous violations will not lead us to take other positions,” Prince Turki was quoted by Al Watan as saying.
Iran last month warned Saudi Arabia against cracking down on its own Shiite majority in its oil-rich Eastern Province, a 45-minute drive across the causeway from Bahrain.
Similarly, months of protests in Yemen demanding the departure of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh potentially could spark unrest among Ismailis in Saudi Arabia’s south-western Jizan and Najran provinces. Saleh and Saudi Arabia have in the past accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen’s north.
The soccer tensions first erupted last month when Saudi immigration authorities demanded that Tehran’s Persepolis FC soccer team, Asia’s most popular club, be finger printed and iris scanned upon its arrival at Jeddah airport for an Asian championship match against Al Iittihad. The Persepolis team refused what is standard procedure for all visitors to the kingdom and was held at the airport for eight hours.
The Persepolis incident sparked dismay in Tehran because of the kingdom’s refusal to acknowledge repeated Iranian demands that Saudi Arabia exempt Iranians from finger printing and iris scanning. In response, Iran threatened retaliation and Iranian legislator Seyed Hossein Naqavi, a member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said Al Ittihad would be subjected to the same treatment at Tehran airport when it arrived for its return match against Persepolis.
"As regards the fingerprinting of Persepolis in the Jeddah airport, we will retaliate and fingerprint al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia. We believe the fingerprinting of Persepolis athletes is a disrespectful act and the move will not remain unanswered," Naqavi said.
What started as storm in a tea cup has however since escalated into a mounting crisis that has further spooked stock exchanges and contributed to oil price hikes.