Macau football is facing dark days after withdrawing from the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The decision could also lead to heavy consequences for the Macau Football Association. Many voices have been protesting the moves, including players, staff and lawmakers. Maybe it is time for a change?
After the historic 1-0 win in the first leg against Sri Lanka, with a goal by Filipe Duarte, hopes were high that Macau may reach for the first time the second round of the World Cup qualifiers. But right after the match, the Macau national team coach indicated that the team might not be able to compete in the second leg. Still, no one was expecting that the outcome would be a complete withdrawal from the competition.
The day after, all national team players were called into the FA headquarters, where they were informed that they will not travel to Sri Lanka. The players desperately tried to change the FA’s decision, such as declaring full responsibility for their own safety, threatening to quit the national team, and even asking the Macau government for help. However, in the end, the match was canceled and Macau were eliminated from the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and most likely also the 2023 Asian Cup, as they are merged into joint qualification groups.
After the final announcement by the Macau FA, many people spoke out. Macau player Cheong Hoi-san commented the situation in a press conference with local lawmaker Sulu Sou: “Losing this opportunity will affect Macau football. Many players want to be professional and play in Hong Kong and China. We have a dream, but now there was this decision. The safety plan was approved by FIFA and AFC. This decision shows that there is no future for Macau football.”
Sulu Sou was one of the most critical voices, demanding that the Macau FA should make all their communication exchange with FIFA and AFC public to fully investigate what really happened. “It is important to understand how active the Macau FA was in fighting for their players’ interest: The Sri Lankan FA made an official declaration, saying that they would provide maximum security measures for the match. FIFA and AFC also agreed that all necessary safety standards were met. Does the Macau FA not trust the safety requirements of FIFA and AFC?”
It is now known that Sri Lanka even promised to deploy military units to ensure the safety of the Macau national team. It seems that the Macau FA had already tried to negotiate with their Sri Lankan counterpart before the first game, discussing the possibility to play both matches in a neutral venue instead. But this proposal was not accepted by Sri Lanka.
The president of the Macau FA, Chong Coc-veng, stated: “The directors of the Sri Lankan Football Association were never available to discuss the possibility to play both matches in a neutral venue. They argued that the country was ready to receive the Macau National team in Colombo.” According to Chong, the travel alert issued by Macanese authorities following a recent terror attack was a decisive factor for the final decision. Some people also question if all this would have happened in the same way, if it had involved more established FA members.
Macau captain Nicholas Torrão was one of the most outspoken players defending his teammates: “I would like to know if AFC and FIFA would have the same attitude if it would involve countries like Japan or Korea. I am sure that the outcome would not be the same. We players understood the concerns of the Macau FA, but we still wanted to play anyway. This was a shocking decision, really sad. Football is nothing without players, and without the staff. Decisions should be made on the pitch and not in the offices.”
Maybe the most concerning consequence of this entire situation is the possible punishment by FIFA and AFC. The Macau FA could face a fine and also a ban from all international competitions, both at the national team level and also at the club level. Money may not be the biggest problem, but a ban could have serious consequences for the future of Macau football. “Continental matches like the ones that Benfica played in the AFC Cup, where C.P.K. also want to play next season, are the ones that give more motivation to the players and the clubs. If the ban really happens, the investment of the clubs will never be the same,” said experienced center back Filipe Duarte.
The president of the Macau FA already said that they are ready to accept further consequences by FIFA and AFC due to this decision, showing a huge lack of ambition. When asked if Chong Coc-veng, would resign if there is a ban, the reply remained vague: “It was a Macau FA decision. But the scenario is still not confirmed, so I cannot answer.” Usually, the Macau Sports Authority (ID) have a say regarding the change of the FA leadership, but ID president Pun Weng-kun already declared public support: “We think that the Macau FA had many considerations and made the right decision. I am sure that there was good communication with FIFA and AFC. The government has never interfered with this matter.”
It is not the first time that the Macau FA has failed to meet expectations. In 2005 Macau were suspended by FIFA, and two years ago Benfica Macau missed the AFC Cup due to a miscommunication with AFC. Meanwhile, the lack of investment in the Macau league, such as scheduling only weekday fixtures, is further evidence for the FA’s unwillingness to improve.
Maybe it is time to change, to call for new faces and new ideas. Duarte Alves, the manager of Benfica Macau, defended the desire of the players and said that the national team should have traveled to Colombo.
In the end, a ban by FIFA and AFC would not be a constructive punishment but rather a death sentence for Macau football. At the same time, local authorities and clubs need to understand that the passion for sport also needs to be taken care of, including the passion of players, staff, and supporters.
Meanwhile, the dissatisfaction over the FA decision continues. On June 16th, Ka I and Hang Sai met in the preliminary round of the FA Cup but used the game to stage a protest. Refusing to play a serious match, the final score saw 39 goals. Ka I eventually “won” the game 21-18. It is yet to see if this situation carries on in the coming weeks.