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The New Arab

Asian World Cup qualifiers postponed over coronavirus fears

The rescheduling comes amid global fears over the coronavirus [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 March, 2020

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FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) agreed to reschedule the matches over fears of the deadly coronavirus.
Asian World Cup qualifying matches will be postponed, according to a statement from footballing authorities, as part of global measures to combat the deadly coronavirus.

Football world body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) agreed to reschedule the matches in March and June, a statement on Monday said.

"Following consultation with Asia's member associations, Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have agreed to postpone the upcoming Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022," FIFA said in a statement.

Matches originally scheduled to take place during the international window of 23-31 March 2020 and 1-9 June 2020 will now be played at later dates, though the statement failed short to provide further information.

Read also: Cancelling the Hajj? How conflict, disease often stopped pilgrimage to Mecca long before the coronavirus

However, FIFA said matches could go ahead if there is mutual agreement between the member associations and subject to approved safety standards.

The number of cases of novel coronavirus worldwide has crossed 110,000 people in 100 countries and territories with more than 3,800 dead.

China, where the virus first emerged late last year, remains the most affected country with more than 80,000 cases, but experts have expressed hope that the outbreak has peaked.

Governments are scrambling to respond to the outbreak with countries across the Middle East, cancelling public gatherings, restricting attendances at sporting events and closing schools.

The rescheduling of the Asian World Cup qualifying matches follows a line of cancellations for events across the world in a bid to prevent the spread f the deadly COVID-19 infection.

On Sunday, authorities confirmed Bahrain's Formula 1 race this month will be run without spectators over fears about the new coronavirus.

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad's announcement on the F1 was carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency.

The crown prince said the decision was "to preserve the safety of citizens, residents and racing fans". The race is scheduled for 22 March.

"As an F1 host nation, balancing the welfare of supporters and race goers is a tremendous responsibility," the Bahrain International Circuit said in a statement.

"Given the continued spread of COVID-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time."

In the UAE, the music Ultra Festival in Abu Dhabi and the K-pop concert Music Bank in tourist-hub Dubai have both been cancelled.

A women's forum and yoga festival in Abu Dhabi and a carnival in Dubai for the Hindu Holi festival, all in March, have also been cancelled or rescheduled, Reuters reported.

A boat show scheduled for March in Dubai has also been postponed, as has the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi.

The move came after the UAE cancelled a cycling tournament when two elite participants were diagnosed with the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Meanwhile in Qatar, the MotoGP™ race and class sessions at the Grand Prix of Qatar were cancelled due to the country's travel restrictions.

The annual film-making Qumra event in Qatar, an initiative that seeks to provide mentorship and hands-on development for filmmakers around the world, was also cancelled.

Qatar on Tuesday also confirmed the cancellation of the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition.

Similar moves have taken place around the world after health experts warned against public gatherings and crowded places in a bid to help prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

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