ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT // False reports by an Arab television station that three members of the UAE's squad for the Under-20 football World Cup were diagnosed with H1N1 served to "destabilise" the team's preparation for last night's opening game, a senior UAE Football Association member said yesterday. On Saturday, UAE football officials issued a statement via WAM, the state news agency, claiming that "no person in the UAE national youth team, currently taking part in the under-20 World Cup in Egypt, has been diagnosed with swine flu".
"Our players, managers, support staff and media representatives are all fine," said Rashid al Zaabi of the UAE FA, after an Arab TV station claimed on Saturday night that three national players tested positive for the virus. Mr al Zaabi, who is in Egypt for the tournament, said the focus had shifted from getting the players ready to dealing with an untrue story. The UAE played South Africa in their first game at 8.45pm last night. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.
"We had to start talking about this on the eve of our first match," he said, after warning on Saturday that the report could "negatively affect our team and create an unnecessary anxiety". "But just to confirm: our players, managers, support staff and media representatives are all fine." The television station withdrew the story later on Saturday night, admitting their reporter had misquoted the team physiotherapist, confusing some minor "injuries" with "swine flu".
Angry fans, who have travelled to Alexandria to support the team, however, were not content. "They should issue an apology and the reporter should be banned from the tournament," said Abdullah al Khatib, an Abu Dhabi resident. "It is totally irresponsible to put out such news without any confirmation. Just admitting his mistake is not enough, considering the confusion and furore he has caused. "It was just very upsetting and we hope some tough actions will be taken."