Macau set to host war-torn Syria’s World Cup soccer qualifiers

Beijing-brokered deal will allow nation’s matches to take place at Olympic Stadium on Taipa, including one against China

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 11:29pm

Macau is set to become a bit player in the tragedy of war-torn Syria, thanks to a Beijing-brokered deal which will see the world’s biggest gaming destination become a temporary “home” for the country’s displaced national soccer team.

Next week Syria will take on South Korea in the Asian qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Macau’s Olympic Stadium in Taipa – a venue which could not be further from the besieged city of Aleppo where they play many of their home matches.

While next week’s game is listed on FIFA’s schedules, venues for Syria’s four other “home” matches are not, but the South China Morning Post understands that a deal will be sealed for the former Portuguese enclave to become the conflict-ridden nation’s adoptive soccer home for all their games in Group A, which includes China.

The Macau move came after alternatives to their homeland, first Iran then Lebanon, were ruled out by footballing chiefs due to security and other concerns.

A source has confirmed that with the blessing of Beijing , Macau was proposed as a venue and will almost certainly host Syria’s “home” games against China, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Iran, as well as next Tuesday’s match against South Korea.

Mainland and Macau watcher Sonny Lo Shiu-hing, a political scientist at the Education University of Hong Kong, said the soccer switch had clear geopolitical undertones.

“Beijing has traditionally used Macau, especially since its return in December 1999, as a springboard for its diplomatic relations with not only Portuguese-speaking countries but the developing world in general,” Lo said.

“Macau is seen as politically stable, diplomatically useful, and economically and culturally a unique model of development for the developing world.

“This goodwill gesture to Syria fits as Beijing wants to be seen as relatively independent in its foreign policy, supportive of all developing countries in the world. It is a logical move,” Lo said.

Earlier this month China’s military announced it would provide aid and training to the Syrian government under a deal reached between Beijing and Damascus.

China has sided with Russia on UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, but Beijing has not been as directly involved in the conflict as Moscow, which has helped the Syrian government conduct air strikes on rebels.

Since President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Middle East at the start of the year, China has stepped up its presence to promote stability in the region, including meetings with Syrian government officials and opposition representatives.

Since 2011, almost half a million people have died in the Syrian civil war and more than 4.8 million people – close to half of them children – have been displaced.