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SARS forces postponement

Kuala Lumpur: The second round of regional Olympic football qualifiers has been postponed even before the completion of the first round as the game in Asia spins into turmoil amid the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The Asian Football Confederation announced on Thursday that five second-round Asian qualifying matches for the 2004 Athens Olympics had been postponed indefinitely.

“In view of the severity of the SARS outbreak in the region, we have decided to postpone these five matches as the players, officials and fans health are of utmost importance to us,” said AFC general secretary Peter Velappan.

SARS has reportedly killed 162 of the 3,000 people infected world-wide, mostly in Hong Kong and China, where the virus was believed to have originated.

“Fifa and AFC will closely monitor the developments of the situation with the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and inform the teams and everyone involved of the new dates in due time,” added Velappan.

Earlier this month, the AFC postponed three first-round Olympic qualifiers and shelved the 14-nation Asian qualifying tournament for the women’s World Cup. The Asian championship was due to be held in Bangkok, starting this week.

While the AFC has scrapped an East Asian men’s series involving China, Japan and South Korea, Fifa postponed the draw for the September 23 to October 11 women’s World Cup in China.

Meanwhile, Everton and Aston Villa have abandoned plans to tour China and Hong Kong for exhibition matches next month.

The Hong Kong-Sri Lanka and Taiwan-Singapore first- round matches were postponed earlier this month due to fears over SARS. (AP)

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