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Beijing demands apology from AFC chief
Updated: 2004-07-19 15:22

Furious Beijing football authorities and fans are demanding Asian Football Confederation chief Peter Velappan retract comments he made accusing fans of being rude and the city unfit to host major sporting events as the 2008 Olympic Games.

Asian Football Confederation chief Peter Velappan gestures during an inspection tour of a Jinan stadium in Shandong Province, another venue for the 13th Asian Cup in this May 26, 2004 file photo. [newsphoto]
Many of Beijing's major newspapers carried front-page stories quoting Beijing Football Association secretary general Zhang Heng insisting that Velappan apologise.

A fuming Velappan on Saturday threatened to withdraw Asian football from Beijing after fans booed speeches by dignitaries and stayed away from the opening game of the Asian Cup in Beijing's Workers' Stadium, in which China drew 2-2 with Bahrain.

He went as far as suggesting the city was not up to hosting the Olympics in 2008.

"Ever since Beijing got the chance to organise the Asian Cup for 2004, me and my colleagues have worked hard in the preparations," said Zhang in an open letter to the media.

"After the opening ceremony, we were very happy. We think we offered a very good opening ceremony.

"But just at that time, after the match between China and Bahrain, Velappan spoke some words which went beyond the Asian Cup. They harmed the feelings of Beijing people," Zhang said in the open letter.

At the press conference after the game, which, as a common practice, should be the venue for the coaches of the two teams, Velappan made the comments, uninvited and unexpectedly.

"Surely, even if the opening ceremony and what we have done for the Asian Cup is not perfect, this is not a reason for Velappan to doubt if Beijing is capable of holding the Olympic Games .

"Myself, I am a good friend of Velappan but I have to say that his comments are wrong.

"As the secretary of the Beijing organising committee, I demand Velappan explain himself and apologise to Beijing football fans and football people."

Enthusiastic fans wave the Chinese national flag at the opening ceremony of the 13th Asian Cup in Beijing July 17, 2004. [newsphoto]
Fans are equally outraged and penned their own letter which three representatives handed to Velappan at his hotel Sunday evening.

"We cannot understand why you have made such comments," the letter said.

"These words are irresponsible and Beijing football fans were shocked. We are shocked and indignant.

"Your claim that Beijing is not capable of holding the Olympics harmed, seriously, our feelings.

"We demand, strongly, that you apologise. If you can't do it, we will consider you not welcome in Beijing."

The row has rippled throughout Asia with at least one newspaper running an editorial criticising the Asian soccer supremo.

"These are sweeping statements and not what we expect from the normally diplomatic Mr Velappan," the South China Morning Post said.

"His scathing attack on the people of Beijing was unjustified. And his suggestion that the capital city might not be fit to host the 2008 Olympics is ill-judged and unfair."

A spokeswoman for the Asian Cup local organising committee said fans had not been booing the opening ceremony guests, who included FIFA President Sepp Blatter, explaining that a technical glitch was responsible.

"The football fans were warm and polite," said spokeswoman Wang Hui. "The audio system for the big screen had some technical problems. The sound was delayed by 10 seconds.

"When Blatter and Velappan and other senior officials entered the stadium, the hissing and booing that they heard were not aimed at them," she said.

The booing was apparently aimed at unpopular officials of the China Football Association, the newspapers said.

Velappan was also outraged that the 66,000 capacity Workers Stadium was half empty for the opening match, but Wang played down his concerns.

"The turn-out was pretty good ... These days, it's very rare to see a full stadium with all seats occupied," Wang said.

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