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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Anti-Government Protests Force FIFA to Postpone Yemen Qualifier

FIFA, soccer’s ruling world body, has postponed Yemen’s home Asian qualifer against Singapore because of anti-government protests wracking the country.

In a burst of optimism, FIFA postponed the match for a week, scheduling it for March 2. Privately, however, Yemeni soccer officials say they are discussing with FIFA and Singapore playing the match in a third country.

Yemen has been witnessing for the past month mass protests demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 30 years in office. Supporters and proponents of the Yemeni leader have repeatedly clashed in the capital Sana’a in the last eight days of uninterrupted demonstrations. Six people were killed in the protests on Friday.

The protests are part of a wave of anti-government demonstrations sweeping the Middle East and North Africa that have already toppled two leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, and led to brutal crackdowns by security forces in Bahrain and Libya.
Egypt and Algeria have suspended all professional league matches to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a rallying point for the protesters.

In a statement, FIFA acknowledged that the protests in Yemen could prevent the match against Singapore from being played in Yemen, insisting that it needed to be played in a “totally safe and secure environment.”

“In the event that the situation in Yemen does not clearly improve in the next days, the match would need to take place on neutral ground; in such case, the venue would be selected in consultation with all the parties concerned, including the national associations of Yemen and Singapore,” the statement said.

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