Muslim group urges Malaysians to boycott Chelsea football tour
Muslim leaders on Sunday urged Malaysians to boycott a visit by English football giants Chelsea in protest at the move to let their Israeli coach and defender into the country, the AFP reported.
Spokesman Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid said the coalition of 21 Muslim groups would hold a mass protest at the tour match if the government did not bar coach Avram Grant and player Tal Ben Haim.
"Malaysians should boycott the match," Mohamad Azmi said. "We should unite with the Palestinian people and fight for an independent homeland for them."
Malaysia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and its citizens must obtain special permission to travel here.
On Friday, the group submitted a memorandum to the home ministry opposing the government's decision to allow the Israeli pair into the country.
"The reason for the travel ban to Malaysia is to isolate Israel which is a rogue state. If the Israeli footballers are allowed in, the government will be considered as being insensitive to the Palestinian people," Mohamad Azmi said.
He warned that if Grant and Ben Haim are allowed into Malaysia, the coalition would picket Chelsea's match against a Malaysian team on July 29.
"Definitely, we will mobilise the public and hold a protest outside the stadium," he said.
Foreign Minister Rais Yatim has confirmed Malaysia had no "objections" to admitting the two, allaying fears that Chelsea may cancel the visit.
"They are a sports team with two Israeli members. We don't see it as something wrong," he said.
The English title contenders are among the most popular teams in Malaysia, where sports fans avidly follow the Premier League on satellite television.
Chelsea are also planning to play in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on July 23 on their pre-season Asian tour.
Malaysia's population is dominated by Muslim Malays, but the nation is also home to large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.