Yugoslav match `must be scrapped'

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The Independent Online
THE IRISH Government isunder pressure today to bar the Yugoslav football team from a crucial match against Ireland on Saturday.

Dublin ministers will discuss whether to refuse visas for the players after the failure of Uefa, European football's governing body, to call off the game against the Republic.

Uefa was condemned yesterday by European ministers for failing to act despite the indictment for war crimes last week of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic.

European soccer's governing body insists the Euro 2000 qualifier must take place in Dublin as scheduled because the United Nations has taken no action against Belgrade.

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) wants to stop the game, but knows that it could be expelled from the competition and the next World Cup if it refuses to field a team.

FAI officials have threatened to withdraw hospitality for the visiting team and will not allow the Yugoslav flag to be raised or the national anthem to be played in the Lansdowne Road stadium. The FAI, which owns the foreign television rights to the game, will also not allow Yugoslav stations to screen the match.

Security is expected to be tight at the stadium if the game does go ahead. But opposition from European Union foreign ministers, who voiced their "disappointment" with Uefa at a meeting in Brussels yesterday, increased the pressure for a cancellation.

In April, the EU agreed to discourage sporting links with Yugoslavia. "Since then there has been a deterioration of the situation in Kosovo," said the Irish Foreign Minister, David Andrews.

"There has also been the indictment of the International Criminal Tribunal of President Milosevic for war crimes."

Ireland is not a member of Nato and its only involvement in the Kosovo crisis is through independent aid workers taking part in the relief effort. Dublin has so far taken 600 Kosovo Albanian refugees and is due to accept 400 more in the next fortnight.

Last night, Uefa would not be drawn on the implications of a government decision not to allow the Yugoslavs into the Republic.

"There is no precedent for such a situation. Uefa would consider the matter if and when it arises," said a Uefa spokeswoman. "Uefa is fully aware of the human tragedies caused by the events in Kosovo."

She added that Uefa, like world football's governing body, Fifa, followed the lead of the UN when it came to banning or suspending members.

Yugoslavia's ban from the 1992 European championship in Sweden followed UN moves over the atrocities in Croatia, the spokeswoman said.

Mr Andrews will brief the cabinet in Dublin today after his meeting with EU counterparts. "They will then be making a decision on it," added a spokeswoman for the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Aherne.

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