Corruption and conspiracy allegations mar AFC Challenge Cup

With additional reporting by Ahmed Naish

The national unity created by the AFC Challenge Cup appeared to waver today as protests broke out in ticket lines amid claims of corruption while the police commissioner alleged a conspiracy in yesterday’s Addu City bus crash.

Supporters of the national team staged a protest outside the Football Association of Maldives (FAM) after ticket sales for Tuesday’s semi-final against the Phillipines were halted, with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) promising an investigation.

Sources who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News today that they had bought tickets at inflated prices from relatives of senior FAM officials – the organisation has denied these claims.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee expressed confusion over the sale of tickets, telling local media that the commission will investigate how the number of available tickets in the 8,000 capacity stadium suddenly dropped to 150 today.

Luthfee was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed told police media that suggestions yesterday’s accident was pre-planned were credible. He did not provide details, saying the police would be looking into the matter further.

FAM President and MP Ilham Ahmed said today that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) officials had called him to ask if the environment in the country was safe to continue the tournament. The confederation intends to take action against the FAM regarding yesterday’s accident, reported Ilham.

After AFC reportedly raised concerns about security at the National Stadium, Chief Superintendent of Police Ismail Naveen today said that – despite proceedings having been peaceful up to now – police were now upgrading security services of the national stadium.

Speaking at the press conference held today, FAM’s director of football said that tickets were not sold or given to FAM staff in a way that could lead to misuse.

Ilham – who said that police had advised the FAM stop selling tickets after people broke the queue – said the FAM had sold three tickets to each member of staff , while locals were only allowed two tickets each for the semi-final.

Ilham claimed that 50,000 people wanted to get into the 8,000 person National Stadium for Tuesday’s semi-final saying that the FAM would try to screen the upcoming matches in Olympus theatre, Adi Park, and in the Social Centre in Malé.

Today’s events followed yesterday’s accident in which five members and two officials from the Afghan team suffered minor injuries in a bus accident on Addu City’s link road.

Police and media reports describe the accident as having been caused when the driver attempted to overtake a van travelling in front of the team’s motorcade. The van was forced to break, causing the following vehicles to hit it from behind.

One police officer accompanying the motorcade broke an arm, while a female protocol officer suffered head injuries. Eight others, including two soldiers and two locals also suffered injuries.

The site of the accident – the 14-kilometer Link Road in Addu City – is the longest paved road in the country and is a notorious accident hot spot.

The tournament, which concludes on May 30, has been lauded for uniting the people of the country after a prolonged period of political division.


Ladies (and men) in red take to Male’ as Chris de Burgh plays capital

A concert by Chris de Burgh, the singer/songwriter famed for 1980’s global super-hit ‘Lady in Red’, attracted 1500 people to Galolhu National Stadium in Male’ on Sunday night.

Organisers claimed the event was one of the largest shows of its kind held in the Maldives over the last decade, following ongoing difficulties in securing international artists to play in the archipelago nation.

De Burgh played a two-hour set that included several renditions of ‘Lady in Red’, along with old and new material focusing on love, loss, encounters with dolphins, adverse weather patterns and political revolution – some tunes seemingly more relevant to the Maldives than others.

De Burgh played to an audience of local spectators, expatriates, MPs, cabinet members and President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, as well as several ladies – and men – in red.

Event organisers have claimed that the concert is an important step towards paving the way for world famous artists to perform in the country.

Mohamed Shinan, event coordinator with local promotion company Think Advertising, said the Maldives has traditionally struggled to cover the fees of high-profile performers when trying to bring concerts to the Maldives.

Shinan added that the concert – the second of two de Burgh performances in the country over the last week – was a result of collaboration with promoters based in Germany.

“For us, this was partly about creating a platform to bring more stars to the Maldives. We have plans to bring much bigger bands in future,” he promised.

After the failure of several attempts to bring international performers to the Maldives over the last 5-6 years, Shinan said it was important to ensure the concert went ahead so as to secure other foreign artists in the future.

“Many raised questions as to whether Chris de Burgh would really come,” he said. “As a local promoter, we had to make sure it did happen.”

Organisers told Minivan News that ticket sales up to the day of the concert had proven quite slow, although picked up hours before the concert took place.  Shinan said remaining seats, which sold for between MVR 750 (US$48) to MVR 400 (US$26), were given to members of the public in the MVR 100 (US$6) standing section to ensure 1,150 seats provided were taken up.

“We decided to fill up the seats so the artist could see all his support from the stage,” he said. “Including the sizable audience in the standing section, we estimate some 1,500 people were in attendance, which is not bad for an artist like Chris de Burgh. Most young people only know him for the one song -‘Lady in Red’.”

Event organisers said it was important to try and show that the Maldives was a peaceful place for tourists after a year of negative media coverage, following political turmoil throughout the year – as well as to please de Burgh’s local fans.

Among key sponsors of the event, the Maldives tourism industry’s slogan, “The sunny side of life” was also adorned on promotional material and tickets.   Shinan also praised Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb for his assistance with setting up the concert. “He played an important part to make this a success,” Shinan added.

The concert commenced at around 9:00pm. The audience – a good-natured though at times muted group, embraced each song with enthusiastic applause, before de Burgh entered the crowd promising “a little romance” with a rendition of ‘Lady in Red’.

As he walked among the audience, the crowd suddenly became animated with a large number making their way up to the Irish balladeer for photo opportunities and to get close to a man was proudly proclaims to have sold an estimated 45 million albums worldwide.

One member of the audience dressed in red and caught up in the apparent excitement was expatriate teacher Laura Fryer, who was attending the concert with friends as part of birthday celebrations.

“As Chris De Burgh came into the audience and sang, I got a bit serenaded, but then so did a few others,” she said, describing her brief encounter with the singer as “good fun”.

Fryer, who has worked in the Maldives for several months, observed that the majority of the country’s musical performances were held at resorts rather than in the capital or on inhabited islands, limiting local access to the events.

Despite the popularity of traditional art-forms such as boduberu – a combination of singing, dancing and rhythmic drumming – dancing and music venues in the country have dwindled in recent years.

Between songs on Sunday night, de Burgh pondered the “mysteries of women”, the impact of reality talent shows on stage dancing, a hatred of headset microphones, and the relevance of his song ‘Waiting for the hurricane’ in light of the super storm that struck parts of the US and Haiti last month, killing over 60 people.

As the evening drew to a close, audience members were invited to the front of the stage and dance to several songs, including a medley of de Burgh’s hits and another full performance of ‘Lady in Red’ – after significant audience pressure for an encore.

Mohamed Naseem, a local activist who attended the concert, told Minivan News that de Burgh had put on a good show and said he was happy to part with his MVR 100.

“I liked it,” he said, enthusiastically.