President Abdulla Yameen has offered a MVR1 million (US$64,850) reward to the national football team if they make it to the semi-finals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup – scheduled to begin in the Maldives next week.
Speaking at a special function held last night for senior government officials to meet the team, Yameen expressed his desire “to make sports into something which transcends politics.”
“And for Maldivians the king or queen of sports is football,” he said.
The President’s Office has confirmed this amount will be paid by the government but did not comment on how it would be acquired or whether it be taken from the national budget.
“This cannot be valued in material terms, the joy it would bring to our hearts cannot be measured,” he said, noting that the team would receive even more rewards from the people of the Maldives.
Yameen’s generosity followed Jumhooree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim’s offer on Monday of MVR500,000 reward for the team “even if they don’t win the tournament”.
“Please don’t disappoint us, take us forward. God willing, we will win these matches. With the grace of God, and his will, the Maldivian national team will persevere all the upcoming challenges without any change in their ambitions.”
The AFC Challenge Cup matches will be played at the National Stadium in Malé City and Hithadhoo Zone Stadium in Addu City.
President Yameen notes that hosting the AFC challenge cup in the Maldives was a difficult task, but his government decided to do everything it could for youth and to unite the nation.
Shedding light on the benefits of hosting the tournament, he said it would put the Maldives on the tourism charts and playing matches outside of Malé at the Addu City stadium would bring economic development to the region.
Having upgraded the stadium to AFC standards would provide more opportunities for Maldivian teams to play more regional and international matches, with the resulting of improving Maldivian football.
Noting that his government gave a special importance to football and sports in general Yameen said that progress was being made in implementing the youth and sports-related programs in his manifesto
“We are going through very tough times [financially], even so we included those funds by the grace of god and we will deliver it. We included MVR300 million [in the budget] for youth and sports activities.”
The work of establishing sporting complexes on all islands with over 2000 people had already begun with futsal and turf stadiums being given particular focus.
Assuring the youth that all football resources required for the next ten years will be established within his five year term, the president also announced development of the ‘Kulhivaru Ekuveni’ sports complex in Malé as a “Sporting City”.
He said the National Stadium in Malé would be upgraded, while a brand new sporting complex was planned to be established in Hulhumalé with a modern football stadium and integrated services.
In an effort to display the youth’s “individual unique talent” to the world, the president said a football match would be organised with the national football team of Japan, and a cricket match with the Sri Lankan national team, remarking that President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had done the same before him.
“It is not a simple task to include MVR300 million in the budget every year. We are experiencing [financial] difficulties in many areas right now. However, even with that, we wanted to make sports into something which is beyond politics – for the Maldivian youth, to forget the past, for friendly relations and unity among us.
He appealed to the people of Maldives to support the national team disregarding any differences in political ideologies, requesting all citizens to “make the national team jersey popular at stadiums and streets”.