April 20 – The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has stepped in to mediate in the search for a venue for the postponed North Korea vs Malaysia 2019 Asian Cup qualifier that was postponed from the original March 28 date and rescheduled for June 8.
The opening tie of the Asian Cup qualifiers was called off after Malaysia’s Football Association (FAM) had asked for the game to be moved away from Pyongyang under pressure from its government following the breakdown in relations between the two countries.
A deadline of April 14 was set to submit a neutral venue proposal but now the AFC has taken charge of process saying in a statement that “in the event the match is not playable in Pyongyang, the AFC will now start discussions with potential Member Associations that can host this match which is to played on 8 June 2017.”
The AFC is no stranger to having to help its member associations find neutral and safe venues for national team matches, ironically Malaysia has often been the most accommodating country in this respect.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries soured when Malaysia accused North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of Pyongyang ruler Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13.
North Korea imposed a travel ban on Malaysians leaving its borders, with Malaysia responding similarly.
AFC Secretary General Dato’ Windsor John said at the time that there was no question of cancelling the match. “In terms of organisation of the match we have no issue. But when you have a travel ban, then that becomes an issue,” he said.
“We cannot override government laws, because the government has a responsibility to protect the citizens. So we need to respect that rule.”
The AFC still hopes it may be possible to play the game in Pyongyang. The AFC statement said: “The final decision on whether this match is played at a neutral venue will be made on 8 May 2017 taking into consideration the political situation between the two countries especially in regards to the travel ban rule made by the Malaysian Government. Currently we are awaiting the latest information from the Football Association of Malaysia if the travel ban is still in force or lifted.”
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