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Malaysia pulls out of Hong Kong football friendly over protest worries

Malaysia pulls out of Hong Kong football friendly over protest worries

Malaysian players celebrate their victory after FIFA world cup preliminary qualification round 2 match between Malaysia and Indonesia at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on Sep 5, 2019. (Photo: AFP/ADEK BERRY)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has pulled out of a football friendly in Hong Kong "for safety reasons due to the current state of civil unrest" in the city, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) said on Thursday (Sep 26).

Hong Kong has been rocked by increasingly violent demonstrations over the past three months, with protesters complaining that freedoms in the semi-autonomous city have been eroded under Beijing's rule.

The friendly was scheduled for Oct 15 but the FAM said they had written to their counterparts in Hong Kong on Wednesday informing them it would be postponed.

Stuart Ramalingam, secretary-general of the Malaysian football body, told AFP the match was being delayed "in view of the civil unrest" which could make Hong Kong unsafe for visiting players.

"We are also aware that flights into Hong Kong could be cancelled and the airport closed, leading to additional costs being incurred," he added.

Hong Kong's airport - the world's eighth busiest - has been repeatedly targeted by protesters, and last month hundreds of flights were cancelled during a demonstration.

Demonstrators gather during a protest at Hong Kong International Airport on Jul 26, 2019. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

The friendly is the latest sporting event impacted by the unrest after organisers of the prestigious Hong Kong Open women's tennis tournament postponed next month's competition, while a golf tournament and a horse racing meet have also been axed.

A Facebook post by the FAM said it will only be able to travel to Hong Kong "once the situation is back to normal".

Mr Ramalingam said the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) had rejected an offer to move the match to Malaysia, and said he hoped it would still go ahead in the Chinese city at a later date.

HKFA confirmed the match was off in a statement on Wednesday, but described it as a cancellation.

"The Hong Kong Football Association regrets to announce that the international friendly match between Hong Kong and Malaysia, which is scheduled on Oct 15 is now cancelled after Football Association of Malaysia submitted a written notice to HKFA on Sep 25, announcing that their incapability of visiting Hong Kong," the association said.

The HKFA had "attempted to negotiate with the Malaysia side, however both sides failed to reach any positive results at the end", it added.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

In addition to sporting events, the protests have forced the cancellation or postponement of a growing number of performances in Hong Kong, from K-pop concerts to stand-up comedy.

Hong Kong's protests were triggered by alarm over a controversial Bill, since scrapped, to allow extraditions to mainland China. Those protests have since morphed into a broader movement for greater democratic freedoms.

Under a deal signed with Britain ahead of the city's 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.

Follow us on Telegram for the latest on Hong Kong: https://cna.asia/telegram

Source: AFP/nr

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