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Sun 9 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Youth World Cup on hold

Safety concerns triggered by threat of war on Iraq forces soccer chiefs to postpone football’s World Youth Championships.

Football supporters around the world will need to wait a few more months to see the FIFA World Youth Championships, after football’s governing body announced on March 06 the postponement of the under-20 tournament, which was to be held in the UAE. The 24-team tournament was scheduled to kick-off on March 25 concluding on April 16.“FIFA regrets having to make this decision but must take into account its responsibilities towards the players, officials and other parties as well as towards the media and spectators,” said Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA.In recent weeks, the British Foreign Office had warned against travelling to the region and with the situation in Iraq still unclear, FIFA opted to postpone the tournament. Teams from the United States, Australia and England had qualified for FIFA’s second largest event.“Due to continuous military mobilisation in the area, some countries who are taking part in the World Youth Championship expressed reservations regarding their participation. We requested them to take part, but to no avail,” said Sheikh Saeed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of UAE football association.Both the USA and English Football Associations welcomed the decision. “Common sense has prevailed and the decision has been taken in a measured fashion with no panic,” said Les Reed, the England under-20 coach.Although no firm dates have been given on when the tournament will take place, autumn is likely to be the next opportunity to stage the tournament. Blatter last month claimed that it would not be moved from the UAE. Samsung, a major sponsor for the tournament, was also keen to point out that its sponsorship deals remained unaffected. A spokesman from the Korean electronics giant said: “It’s likely that everything will remain exactly the same as it is, all agreements will be in place until the event runs again later in the year.”It’s not the first time that FIFA has postponed or rescheduled these championships. In 1991, the World Youth Championships in Ecuador were called off due to the government’s territorial disputes with Peru, while in 1995, Nigeria’s deteriorating relationship with the media caused the competition to relocate to Qatar.In a separate development, Soccerex, the annual soccer business conference, scheduled for March 23-24 in Dubai, has also been postponed following the FIFA decision. Like the Youth Cup, no fixed date for the conference has been given.Despite these setbacks, the Gulf has recently seen several high profile events attract top sports’ personalities. The Dubai Tennis Championships and Golf’s Desert Classic have both run without incident, and organisers of the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horserace, confirmed this week that the event would go ahead on March 29. The race is expected to have a record 15 American entries take part.

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