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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Protests Force FIFA to Move Yemeni Olympic Qualifier Against Singapore to the UAE

Anti-government protests that have wracked Yemen for much of this year have persuaded FIFA, the world’s soccer body, and the African Football Confederation (AFC) to move the Gulf state’s delayed 2012 Olympics football qualifier against Singapore to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement FIFA said the match and its return would be played in Al Ain’s Khalifa Stadium on March 19 and 21 because the protests in Yemen demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh after 30 years in office rendered the Yemeni capital Sana’a unsafe.Yemen's initial match against Singapore was initially scheduled to be played in Sana'a in February but was twice postponed because of the protests.

The choice of the UAE was in part prompted by Singapore’s decision to forfeit its right to host a match so that Yemen would not lose its home advantage.

UAE officials are welcoming the decision, portraying it as confirmation that the UAE remains an island of stability in a region that for months has been thrown into turmoil my mass demonstrations in countries stretching from Africa’s Atlantic coast to the waters of the Gulf demanding an end to authoritarian rule. The UAE is one of the Middle East and North Africa’s few nations to have avoided public protests in support of political and economic change.

The protests have already toppled two of the region’s leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, and led to brutal crackdowns by security forces in Bahrain and Libya.

Professional league matches in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria remain suspended since late January in a bid to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming a rallying point for the protesters.

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