In stadiums used for killing; FIFA and Asian Confederation enhance regime-held sports


Enab Baladi – Mohammad al-Najjar

The International Football Association (FIFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are planning to send a delegation representing the two federations to Syria to study how to provide support to football in regime-held areas following a ban imposed on Syrian stadiums 11 years ago.

FIFA announced that it was in the process of sending a joint delegation comprising the Asian Football Confederation to Syria to conduct a “security assessment” on the country’s possibility of hosting international friendly matches, which the Syrian opposition considered an “immoral act” by both of the federations.

The International Football Association will work with relevant organizations, including the United Nations, to take measures to allow the full implementation of the FIFA development programs in Syria. This cooperation between international organizations will support the Syrian Football Association (SFA) to develop and renew football infrastructure and organize competitions in line with the vision of the president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, for the 2020-2023 period.

According to the statement published on FIFA’s official website on 11 September, this cooperation will send a message of hope to the Syrian people and will promote “positive values” that can be conveyed through football.

“Double standards, electoral propaganda”

The international delegation’s decision to visit regime-controlled areas has angered the opposing Syrian public, while the world continues to look at the ruins of Syrian cities and towns that have been destroyed by the regime’s warplanes and missiles for 11 years.

International humanitarian and human rights organizations continue to document hundreds of thousands of civilian victims killed by the regime’s warfare machine, along with tens of thousands of detainees in its prisons, apart from converting some stadiums into detention centers and starting points for its military operations, or airstrips for helicopters.

The head of the Sports and Youth Commission in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), Ahmed al-Khatib, told Enab Baladi that this action by the FIFA and the AFC is similar to granting a certificate of appreciation and reward to the Syrian regime for its crimes against the Syrian people, including athletes killed in detention.

Al-Khatib stated that this action is part of a “double standards” policy, as it is not appropriate for FIFA and the AFC to send a delegation or repeal the ban on stadiums that witnessed the shed of Syrian blood due to torture, stressing that the Sports and Youth Commission will forward a letter to said International and Asian Federations.

The head of the Sports and Youth Commission questioned the reason behind not imposing sanctions on the teams and clubs affiliated with the Syrian regime, just as Russia’s teams and clubs were punished after its invasion of Ukraine, with everyone knowing that the Syrian regime had turned most of the stadiums, including the Abbasiyeen International Stadium in the capital, Damascus, into detention facilities for torturing and killing the Syrian people.

In al-Khatib’s view, this decision is part of the electoral propaganda of the FIFA, and the AFC, as elections within these organizations are about to be held next year. He also regretted the delegation’s dispatch; it is “a step in which the desired values and sportsmanship were assassinated, at the expense of the Syrian people and Syrian athletes in countries of asylum,” he said.

FIFA’s disregard for Syria’s “free” sports

The head of the Sports and Youth Commission in the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) denied receiving any support or assistance from FIFA and the AFC, wondering why FIFA did not support “free” athletes opposed to the Syrian regime in areas that are not subject to its rule inside Syria, as well as in Turkey and other countries of asylum.

The sports sector in the opposition-controlled cities and towns of northern Syria faces numerous difficulties, such as the lack of support and adequate infrastructure, despite the efforts of local actors and organizations operating in that region.

The sports sector also received its share of shelling as well as other sectors. Many sports facilities, such as stadiums and halls, were destroyed, and there was no safety, which hampered the organization of many sports activities.

Outside Syria, many academies and sports bodies are active and suffer from a lack of support, care, and attention from international sports-governing associations.

Ahmed al-Khatib called on the two federations to treat the “free” Syrian football fairly, especially the Syrian athletes in various countries of asylum in the world, citing high-level sporting talents without any support or sponsorship from anyone. He added that sports are art, values, ethics, and principles and that international organizations must respect them and their professional athletes.

The Sports and Youth Commission of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) has previously sent official letters to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees (UANOC), demanding that they cease their support for the regime’s Olympic Committee and work to support SIG’s Sports and Youth Commission given the large number of Syrian youth who play most sports in the north of Syria and in countries of asylum, according to al-Khatib.

Previous experiences and committees

Following the Syrian revolution in 2011, FIFA imposed a ban on Syrian stadiums, forcing the Syrian national team to play its matches outside its home country. Syrian clubs and teams currently compete in FIFA and AFC tournaments and are not allowed to host their matches on Syrian territory.

Since 2012, a FIFA committee visited Syrian territory once in late 2019 with the aim of “assessing the situation” and observing the electoral conference of the Syrian Football Association. It also referred to FIFA’s support for the Syrian teams in international participation through making bookings and purchasing airline tickets.

The Syrian Football Association has repeatedly demanded the lifting of the ban on Syrian stadiums and allowing the team to play its games in Syria on the grounds that it has become “safe.”

On 21 July 2018, the then president of the Syrian Football Association, Mohammad Fadi al-Dabbas, said that FIFA committees would visit Damascus, Latakia, and Homs.

In April 2018, the president of the International Football Association, Gianni Infantino, announced that FIFA was considering the possibility of lifting the ban on Syrian stadiums, expressing his hopes to see Syrian teams play at home. He also confirmed that “the Syrians have submitted a request, and we will certainly study it.” However, the visit did not take place.

Sports are not part of the Syrian regime’s priorities, as it only employs them to confirm its presence internationally amid accusations of “corruption and nepotism” within the Syrian sports system.


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