Malaysia, North Korea to Play Football Matches at Neutral Venue: AFC

Pyongyang portion of Asian Cup qualifier was postponed repeatedly after Kim Jong Nam’s assassination in Malaysia.

A Malaysian supporter in a tiger costume roots for the national football team during the first leg of its AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final match against Vietnam, at Shah Alam Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Dec. 7, 2014.

Malaysia and North Korea will play their Asian Cup qualifying match at a neutral venue next month after the Pyongyang leg was postponed three times because of bilateral tensions and security concerns, the region’s football governing body said Friday.

The venue for the two-part qualifier, scheduled for Nov. 10 and Nov. 13, will be played at a yet to be determined neutral pitch in Asia, a senior Asian Football Confederation (AFC) official told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

“We are discussing with several countries to be the host. Hopefully, next week, we will get an answer. Among the countries being discussed are [countries] from Southeast Asia, and China,” Windsor Paul John, general secretary of the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC, said on Friday night.

In late September, the Pyongyang match was postponed a third time when the Malaysian government banned all of citizens, including the national football team, from travelling to North Korea. In justifying the ban, Kuala Lumpur cited heightened nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula and other developments related to intercontinental ballistic-missile tests conducted by North Korea.

In a statement issued earlier on Friday, the AFC announced that North Korea would represent the “home” side for the Nov. 10 match and the “visiting” side in the second leg three days later. Both nations will be vying for a berth in the 2019 Asian Cup tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

“The original match day 1 fixture had been postponed firstly because of raised political tensions between Malaysia and DPR Korea and subsequently because of a ban by the Malaysian Government on its citizens travelling to DPR Korea,” the sport’s regional body said. “In the interests of competition fairness, it has been decided that both matches between the two countries will be played at the same neutral venue ....”

“The order of matches has been maintained as the previously announced sequence to protect the sporting integrity of the competition,” the statement said, adding that the football associations of the two counties had agreed to this arrangement.

Thrice delayed

The match in Pyongyang had also been postponed because of diplomatic tensions that arose between Malaysia and North Korea over the Feb. 13 assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, in a chemical weapon attack at a Kuala Lumpur area airport. Two Southeast Asian women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – are standing trial in Malaysia for the murder.

In March, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) cited security concerns when it announced that the national team was pulling out of the match in Pyongyang, originally scheduled for March 28. At the time, FAM officials asked the Asian Football Confederation to find a neutral venue for the match.

When the confederation announced in May that the match would be played in Pyongyang on June 8, despite the Malaysian request, the president of FAM expressed fears that players and coaches from the national team could be exposed to the possibility of food poisoning by sabotage if they went to North Korea.

The AFC then postponed the match till Oct. 5. It was again postponed – though indefinitely – after the Malaysian foreign ministry, on Sept. 28, banned its citizens from traveling to North Korea over regional security tensions.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.