Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng said on Tuesday that he “regrets” that the Macao football team was unable to play Sri Lanka in the second leg of a 2022 Would Cup qualifying first-round clash, which was initially scheduled to be held on Tuesday in the South Asian country.
Tam also said that he “respects and understands” the Macao Football Association’s (MFA) decision not to send the team to Sri Lanka for the second leg match in order to protect the players’ personal safety, while he also understood the players’ unhappiness that they could not play the game.
Tam also said the local government “could not and had not” interfered in the Macao Football Association’ decision-making process, adding he believed that the association made the decision after careful consideration. The policy secretary also urged the association to improve communication with its players before making any decisions in the future.
Tam made the remarks while speaking to reporters after attending the opening ceremony of an exhibition showcasing the intangible cultural heritage of Zhejiang province. The exhibition held at the headquarters of the Municipal Affairs Bureau (IAM) is jointly organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC) and the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism.
The Macao Football Association first announced on Saturday night that it had decided not to send its team to Sri Lanka for the second-leg match as it could not fully ensure the safety of the 24-member team during their stay in the country which was hit by a string of deadly Easter terrorist attacks. The association said that it contacted the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the Football Federation of Sri Lanka (FFOSL) for talks on the second leg to be held in a third country, but in vain.
Shortly after the Macao Football Association announced its decision, the Football Federation of Sri Lanka said in a statement that it had made “extraordinary” security arrangements for the Macao team with the army and the police “round the clock”, in conjunction with other authorities. Nevertheless, the Macao Football Association reaffirmed its decision during a press conference on Sunday.
The first leg of the Macao-Sri Lanka match took place last Thursday. The match was held at the Zhuhai Sports Centre due to repairs to the Macao Stadium in Taipa. Macao won the first leg 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal as the first round of Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar got under way.
Tam said he had looked forward to the Macao Football team travelling to Sri Lanka for the second leg match and he initially planned to say farewell the team when it was to depart from Macao. Tam said that when he realised that the team could not travel to Sri Lanka, he felt deep regret.
Tam said that according to a report by the Sports Bureau (ID), the Macao Football Association made the decision as no insurance company was willing to provide travel insurance for the team’s visit to Sri Lanka, and that therefore the association decided that the team would refrain from playing the second leg match in the island republic.
ID President Pun Weng Kun told reporters on Monday that his bureau “would not and could not”, interfere in the Macao Football Association making any decisions.
Tam said the government understood that it’s important for the Macao team to be covered by travel insurance during its matches elsewhere, and therefore he respected and understood the association’s decision. Tam said that he understood that the players always want to give their best, strive for a good result and “fight for glory” for Macao. Tam said that therefore he also understood the players’ unhappiness that they could not travel to Sri Lanka to play the match. “I understand both sides and also the Sports Bureau,” Tam said.
Tam noted that the Macao Football Association is a member of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation, adding that in line with international practice, the local government is not allowed to interfere in the decision-making process of the Macao Football Association.