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Syria Suspends Soccer Matches Amid Anti-Government Protests

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Syria Suspends Soccer Matches Amid Anti-Government Protests
Koki Nagahama/Getty Images
Syria suspends soccer matches because of protests

Syria, wracked by anti-government protests, has become the latest Arab state to suspend its professional league midseason in a bid to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point.

According to FIFA, the Syrian football federation announced the suspension without referring to the country’s political turmoil. Instead, it said the suspension was "to allow national, Olympic, youth and junior teams to respond to other commitments."

It said that "new instructions will be given concerning the resumption of sporting activities at the appropriate time."

The unprecedented protests in Syria aim to force Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, to grant greater freedoms and put his family's four-decade grip on power to its most serious test since Bashar assumed office 11 years ago.

Activists estimate more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, but officials put the death toll at about 30.

The Syrian decision follows the suspension of the Egyptian and Tunisian leagues in January. Those leagues remain suspended despite the fact that protests led to the toppling in January of Tunisian President, Zine Abedine Ben Ali, and of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in March.

Plans to revive the Egypt’s Premier League in mid-April were put on hold this weekend after militant fans of crowned Cairo club Zamalek SC stormed the pitch on Saturday during their team’s crucial return African championship match against Tunisia’s Club African in the Cairo International Stadium.

Only five matches in two African club competitions have been allowed in the country since the mass demonstrations.

Egypt’s military rulers agreed last month only reluctantly to the mid-April resumption, and were quick to reverse that decision to figure out whether to cancel this season’s league or find a way to allow it go ahead with security. The military’s concern stems from Egyptian soccer’s history as a venue for dissent and the fact that soccer fans played a key role in the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s ousting.

The government and the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) are considering reviving the league behind closed doors or inside military camps after a pitch invasion at the weekend, the EFA said in a statement on its website.

"I will hold a series of meetings with officials to discuss the situation and work out a final solution for the resumption of the competition. We could play matches behind closed doors and also on the pitches of the armed forces," the statement quoted EFA president Samir Zaher as saying.

James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

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