The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has found itself amidst a security predicament, as the national team is slated to compete in Iran for the upcoming World Cup qualifying match. Given the recent surge in geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, concerns about the safety and logistics of the match have been raised.
Having celebrated a commendable two-leg triumph over Bhutan, Hong Kong is now gearing up for the second stage of the Asian qualifiers, aiming for a spot in the 2026 World Cup to be co-hosted by the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Under the guidance of Head Coach Jorn Andersen, Hong Kong’s football team is set to take on formidable opponents in Group E. These include Iran, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The opening game against Iran in Tehran is scheduled for November 16, with a subsequent home game against Turkmenistan planned just five days later.
Nevertheless, the volatile security environment in the region has given rise to apprehensions about the feasibility of Hong Kong’s scheduled match in Iran. An HKFA representative addressed these concerns, stating, “We are fully aware of the intricate security dynamics of the Middle East. The administration team of Hong Kong is actively assessing the safety implications related to travel.”
The responsibility of venue and stadium approval for such matches traditionally lies with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), as indicated by global governing body FIFA. However, efforts to gain insight from the AFC have been futile, with numerous outreach attempts remaining unanswered.
This isn’t the first time Hong Kong is set to compete against Iran. Their last face-off on Iranian soil dates back to 1977. Interestingly, when both teams were pitted against each other for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, the ‘away’ match was relocated to a neutral ground in Bahrain. This change was attributed to the AFC’s haste in wrapping up fixtures in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amidst these unfolding events, Australia’s head coach, Graham Arnold, voiced concerns about the Socceroos’ upcoming World Cup qualifier against Palestine due to the ongoing conflict in the region. Arnold stressed the urgency for governmental intervention to secure a neutral and safe venue for their matches against both Palestine and Lebanon.
Arnold stated, “The current security scenario in the Middle East is undoubtedly alarming. While we might not have a comprehensive grasp of every nuance, we expect the government, having deeper insights, to step in and guide us. The safety of our players is paramount.”
As of now, the fate of the World Cup match between Lebanon and Palestine, marked for November 16, remains undecided. Similarly, the European governing body, UEFA, has opted to postpone European Championship qualifying games that were set to take place in Israel this month, further highlighting the global concerns around hosting sporting events in the region.