Malaysia axe Hong Kong football friendly over protest worries

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) –


Malaysia have pulled out of a football friendly in Hong Kong over concerns about the unprecedented pro-democracy protests in the city, officials said Thursday, the latest sporting casualty from the unrest.

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

The friendly was scheduled for October 15 but the Football Association of Malaysia 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 pro-democracy protesters, and last month hundreds of flights were cancelled during a demonstration.

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.

The Malaysian official said the Hong Kong Football Association 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.

The Hong Kong FA had confirmed the match was off in a statement on Wednesday, but described it as a cancellation.

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

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 but 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.