SINGAPORE: A children's football team from Fandi Ahmad's football academy is stranded at Turkey's Antalya Airport following an attempted military coup in Istanbul and Ankara, the F-17 Academy said on Saturday (Jul 16).
A post on its Facebook page said the team comprises two 8-year-olds, four 10-year-olds, five 11-year-olds, a 12-year-old, a 14-year-old and two coaches. Most of the children are Singaporean, and at least three are American. Six parents are also accompanying them on the trip.
They flew off from Changi Airport at 10pm on Friday. Said the F-17 academy: "They were on flight TK55 headed for Copenhagen with transit in Istanbul. Flight got diverted due to the military coup. Now they are in Antalya Terminal 2. No one seems to be attending to them there. And there are thousands of people there from the numerous flights that got redirected to Antalya. Worse, now they want to transfer our kids, coaches and parents to Terminal 1 because of overcrowding and they may require the team to stay overnight there."
The team was headed for Gothenburg, Sweden to represent Singapore in the Gothia World Youth Cup 2016, which is due to kick off on Sunday.
(Photo: F-17 Football Academy)
When contacted, the director of the F-17 football academy, Nabil Yusoff, told Channel NewsAsia: "We're trying to soldier on and purchase new flights to Copenhagen to catch our train or even direct to Gothenburg. However, Antalya is still closed! So we can purchase new flights out but (when) will it depart?"
"The kids have only just been briefed about this whole thing by parents and coaches as they are young and we don't need them freaking out," he added.
Ms Radhika Radhakrishnan, who is stranded in Antalya with her husband and child said: "There is no official or anyone here to give us any updates. Neither is there any official communication channel here like an electronic signage or message on TV. Only loads of people from different flights sitting around everywhere."
Another parent, Ms Lee Suk Houn, whose son is among the football team, said: "No one has said anything to us in the 5 hours we have been here. And so many people here..who knows when we will be able to get out!"
Said Mr Israel Louis Ismail, a father of two boys stuck in Antalya: "Safety is of course the first concern. But once Antalya Airport reopens, am really hoping our team can catch a connecting flight to Copenhagen or Gothenburg in time for our first match. Let's persevere and show the world what we're made of! They've trained so hard for this tournament and are so brave right now in the midst of this coup."
The football academy said it has contacted Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Singapore embassy in Ankara for assistance. "We are desperately trying to reach Turkish Airlines but to no avail. We plead for assistance from anyone who can help get our kids out of Turkey ASAP," it said. "Please help our kids get back en route to Gothenburg, Sweden to achieve their dream of representing Singapore in the Gothia World Youth Cup 2016."
Channel NewsAsia understands that MFA and its embassy in Ankara are in touch with the group at Antalya Airport and are providing consular assistance.
In an update posted on the team's Facebook page on Saturday evening, F-17 Academy founder Fandi Ahmad said that the situation in the airport was "chaotic and messy".
"There is a lack of information and everyone in the airport is scrambling to get out. The Turkish Airlines booths are reportedly unmanned and the airport is barely functioning. No one is giving updates to the stranded passengers including our F-17 team."
Fandi also praised the team for their courage. "We salute the boys for their courage to soldier on and achieve their dream of playing at the World Youth Cup," he said. "We (are) also proud of our F-17 coaches and parents for looking after the young ones and keeping their spirits up under trying circumstances."
The team has been training five days a week for the past month and a half, Mr Nabil said. They came in third in the tournament in 2014 and managed a top-32 finish last year.
Singapore's MFA has issued an advisory urging citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Turkey. It said citizens who are in Turkey should stay indoors and contact its embassy in Ankara.