Malaysia's prime minister reaffirmed his government's support for a proposed visit from Premier League team Manchester United, despite protests by FIFA and Asian soccer officials.
"We want the team to come to Malaysia," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Friday. "We hope the organizers will not cancel the match. This is the desire of the government." The Football Association of Malaysia indicated this week that United's planned July 27 friendly match in Malaysia would be canceled because of objections by world governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation.
But Abdullah said the match should proceed to mark Visit Malaysia Year and the country's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
He said Malaysia believes the match will attract United fans from neighboring countries such as Singapore and Thailand. FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC earlier this week urged United to postpone its upcoming Asian tour to avoid overshadowing the July 7-29 Asian Cup, the region's flagship tournament to be held jointly in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Manchester's match in Malaysia is being organized by the Tourism Ministry, which has received a letter from United chief executive David Gill saying that the team was "extremely sad and disappointed to hear that we are not welcomed."
AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam has said Manchester's planned July tour - which also includes Japan, South Korea and Macau - is "immoral" as it would compete with the 16-nation Asian Cup for spectator interest, television viewers and ticket sales.