Sunday, January 30, 2011
Asian Cup blames royals' attendance
DOHA, Qatar -- Asian Cup organizers acknowledged Sunday that as many as 3,000 fans were denied entry to the final match but insisted that many didn't have tickets and those that did should have come earlier.
Scenes of angry spectators holding their tickets outside the stadium during Japan's 1-0 extra-time victory over Australia on Saturday marred what otherwise had been a successfully organized tournament for Qatar. It also raised questions about the the 2022 World Cup host's ability to put on large events.
Jassim al-Rumaihi, operations director at the tournament, said the gates were closed five minutes after the match started and never opened again. The tight security was in place because members of the emirate's royal family were attending the match, he said.
"We feel sorry for people without a ticket. I hope it will not give a bad impression of the tournament in general," Al-Rumaihi said. "The tournament was very successful. It was marvelous. We were hoping we wouldn't have something like this happen but it happened and we will try to solve it. You can't satisfy everyone."
Al-Rumaihi said the decision to the close the gates was made by the security detail for the royal family and was not in the organizers' control. But he did criticize many of the fans for showing up at the last minute -- despite what he said were repeated warnings in the media to arrive to the final early. He also denied reports that organizers let in fans early without tickets to fill the stadium.
"Some of the people came late and had tickets. Our friend who is doctor at a university came to gate and said, 'Is it possible to get in?' We told him, 'No, you came late.' He left," Al-Rumaihi said. "Time is very important guys. If you are traveling, you have go to the airport two hours early."
Witnesses -- many posting videos and photos of the angry on Twitter and Facebook -- described a chaotic scene in which thousands of fans massed behind a fence that encircled the 40,000-seat Khalif Stadium. Some fans who had come from as far away as Australia complained that baton-wielding police roughly pushed the crowd and ordered people to leave because the stadium was sold out, although there were empty seats inside.
When a reporter approached, the crowd of European, South Asian and Gulf Arab fans all held up their tickets, including one woman who had eight. They talked of crowds that reached 5,000 all barred from entering and then spending the next several hours going from gate to gate in an unsuccessful bid to gain entry.
An Al-Jazeera reporter told organizers Sunday at a press conference that one of is television crews filming the crowds had cameras confiscated and the shots deleted. Another friend shooting the scene had her camera ripped from her hands and had to be taken to hospital, the reporter said.
After the match, fans also complained they were prevented for an about an hour from leaving the stadium until after a closing ceremony featuring a fireworks show.