FAM President retains concerns over Malaysia's Asian Cup qualifier in Pyongyang

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Despite Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announcing on Monday that the postponed 2019 Asian Cup qualifier between North Korea and Malaysia to be held in Pyongyang - Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) is still hoping that there will be a turnaround in the decision.

The President of FAM, HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) today released a statement saying that while understanding the reasons behind AFC's decision, still remains worried and concerned for the well-being of the players and officials should the match go ahead as planned.

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TMJ highlighted that safety is one area but also the situation with regards to the match officials that will be in charge - that they might indirectly be under pressure due to the decisions they make when the match is played, as the full statement reads below.

"As you may know, the Malaysian government has discouraged the Harimau Malaya from traveling to North Korea to play the match due to the ongoing 'diplomatic row'. However, to date the government has not issued a travel ban, just a travel advisory, and that is not a strong enough reason for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to switch the original match venue to a neutral one."

"As president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), I view things very seriously when it comes to the safety of our national players and officials. So this being the case, it is difficult for me to allow the players and officials to travel to Pyongyang.

"If the FAM does not allow them to travel to Pyongyang to play the match, North Korea will be awarded a 3-0 win. Added to that, we will also be fined up to US$50,000 and will be eliminated from the qualifying stages of the Asian Cup.

"But what is more worrying is that there is a good chance that Malaysia will be disqualified from all future AFC matches.The question now is what do we do? Truthfully, I would like the match to be played at a neutral venue for the sake of the players' safety.

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"Another big worry is that I have been reliably informed by several coaches who visited North Korea before the present row that the situation in the hermit nation is very bad. I'm also very concerned about the safety assurance regarding the accommodation provided and the food.

"According to the information I have received we need to bring our own food due to the possibility of sabotage. Another big concern is the issue of refereeing because if there are decisions going against the North Koreans, there is the possibility that the safety of match officials will be affected and that will surely put them under pressure.

"Taking all this into consideration, and after weighing the pros and cons, as President of FAM, I am definitely not in favour of the team traveling to North Korea, but ultimately the final decision rests with our government and the Sports Ministry.

"For me, the safety of the Malaysian people is of the utmost importance. We must always put the people's safety first no matter the situation. This is what the Malaysian government and our football fans want above all else," said Tunku Ismail.

TMJ's concern regarding the match officials is unlikely to go down well with the top echelons at AFC, who could see this as something that undermines the capability of appointed officials in making calls without outside influence.