Kuwait stages exhibition game despite FIFA warning

Kuwait City, December 19

Kuwait on Friday staged an exhibition game with the participation of former international stars despite being suspended by world football’s governing body FIFA.

FIFA last week sent a global alert to all members warning them to keep their players away from the ‘All Stars’ game in Kuwait because of its suspension. A number of currently active players like former England midfielder Steven Gerrard and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo dropped plans to play in the game apparently because of the warning.

FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have both suspended Kuwait because of alleged government interference in the Gulf state’s sport. Even the United Nations has become involved in the showdown. England’s David Beckham, Portugal’s Luis Figo and Brazilian former Barcelona star Ronaldinho were among those who did take part in the game between a Kuwait team and the international select played in a jam-packed stadium.

Other stars who played in the game included Michel Salgado and Carles Puyol of Spain, Jamie Carragher and David James of England and the Italian trio of Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta and Alessandro Del Piero. Former Brazil and Real Madrid defender Roberto Carlos, Portugal’s Deco, Ukraine’s Andriy Shevchenko and Robert Pires of France also played along with former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Dwight Yorke and Egypt’s Mohammed Aboutrika.

The game, shortened to just 75 minutes, ended in a 4-2 win for Kuwait with Figo and Pires scoring for the international team, both from Beckham crosses. It was played to inaugurate the 60,000 capacity Jaber Stadium, the emirate’s biggest

and the second in the Gulf after the King Fahad stadium in Riyadh.

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah led the country’s leadership and top officials to the colourful ceremony that included a musical concert by top Gulf singers and spectacular fireworks and laser displays that lit the skies over the oval-shaped stadium.

Kuwait’s suspension in October means it is “no longer entitled to take part in international matches and/or competitions until the relevant suspension is no longer in force,” said the FIFA notice. It added that FIFA registered clubs and players “may not entertain sporting contact with the suspended FIFA member association.”

The world body had also written to the Kuwait Football Association warning that the match needed FIFA approval. The game was officiated by German referee Markus Merk after Italy’s Pierluigi Collina did not come.

FIFA’s executive decided in September to suspend Kuwait unless it changed its sports law by October 15 so that the KFA and clubs could act “independently.” The Kuwaiti government has repeatedly said the country’s laws are in line with international sports charters.

It is the third time since 2007 that FIFA has suspended Kuwait over government interference. The suspension has undermined Kuwait’s bid to reach the 2018 World Cup finals.

The action against Kuwait is an embarrassment for Sheikh Ahmad Fahad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a FIFA executive member from the Gulf state. But Kuwait has also been suspended, for the third time in five years, by the IOC, which again discussed the Gulf state’s sports crisis at an executive meeting in Lausanne last week.