Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Chinese fans boo at speech by FIFA head Sepp Blatter


A top Asian soccer official questioned Beijing's fitness to host the 2008 Olympics after the city's fans booed during a speech by FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the opening ceremony of the Asian Cup.

"Beijing fans really need to learn some manners, otherwise how can you hold the 2008 Olympics," Asian Football Confederation general secretary Peter Vellapan said in an interview published Sunday in Chinese newspaper Titan Sports.

Booing broke out Saturday afternoon as Blatter and AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam addressed the crowd at Beijing's Workers' Stadium before the opening match between China and Bahrain.

Newspapers said fans were actually booing the deputy secretary general of the widely unpopular official Chinese Football Association, whose image appeared on the stadium's big screen television as the officials were speaking.

Yet the action appeared to raise further questions about China's readiness to host major international sporting events.

Besides the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, Shanghai is to host China's first Formula One auto racing grand prix in September. The northeastern city of Changchun will host the winter Asian Games in 2007 and the southern city of Guangzhou holds the summer Asian Games in 2010.

Vellapan said the Beijing booing incident had been perceived as directed at the FIFA leaders. The AFC would not support any future bid by Chinese capital to host World Cup games, he said.

"I was really embarrassed. I can tell you, I had been asked by Blatter and Bin Hammam whether they should continue their comments," Vellapan said.

Vellapan said he understood the explanation about the video screen, but said: "You can boo the head of your own soccer federation, but how can you boo remarks by the president of FIFA and the president of the Asian Federation ?"

There was no official comment from the Chinese organizers of the 16-nation Asian Cup tournament, which ends in Beijing on Aug. 7. Spokesmen were unavailable or did not return calls requesting comment.

However, the reporter who conducted the interview, Hu Gang, said China's image as a host of soccer events would likely suffer long-term harm.

"The first impressions of Blatter and Bin Hammam will never change. I can say 10,000 words of explanation, but that will never take back those impressions," Hu wrote.

Three other Chinese cities -- Jinan, Chengdu and Chongqing -- are also hosting games in the tournament and Vellapan said he would be visiting those cities to check on preparations.

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