SARS sinks soccer championships

Kyodo

The upcoming East Asian Football Championships have been postponed because of fears over severe acute respiratory syndrome, the East Asian Football Federation said Thursday.

The decision followed a request from Yokohama city officials that the May 28-June 3 event at International Stadium Yokohama be called off. The tournament was to feature China, South Korea, Hong Kong and host Japan.

“Yokohama mayor Hiroshi Nakada on Wednesday made a strong request for us to postpone the tournament,” EAFF chief Shunichiro Okano said. “There are two weeks before the tournament and it would be impossible to find a new venue (in that time).”

Okano made the announcement following emergency talks with senior officials at the Japan Football Association.

“Of course the federation has to consider what’s best for Yokohama and has to take responsibility on a social level, and that is why we accepted the request and postponed,” he said.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, as well as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, made a similar request Monday to the East Asian soccer federation to postpone the tournament.

In a late-night meeting Wednesday, Yokohama Nakada asked Okano to put off the tournament as there is no end in sight to the epidemic.

“We can’t ignore the fears of SARS,” Nakada said. “Since this is a life or death matter, we can’t just tell the people of the nation, ‘I’m sorry,’ after the fact. We need to postpone this tournament.

“We don’t want to cancel the tournament, but we talked about seeking a postponement for now,” he said. “We have not discussed when would be best to have the tournament in the future.”

As one of the safety precautions for the inaugural event, the East Asian federation had requested that players from each team submit medical certificates verifying their health in order to participate in the inaugural tournament.

The four sides were due to face each other in a minileague format with a check for $400,000 going to the team with the best overall record.