Asia’s biggest soccer tournament will be held for the first time in Australia from Jan. 9-31, and AFC officials are worried about safety plans following the 16-hour siege at a Sydney cafe that left two hostages and their captor dead.
Alex Soosay, the general secretary of the AFC, said he contacted Australia’s organizing committee (ALOC) on Tuesday, asking for increased protection.
“Thousands of media and fans will be traveling to Australia for the competition, apart from 16 teams, and their security is our utmost priority,” Soosay said in a statement.
“We have asked ALOC to provide extra security in team and AFC hotels as well as police escorts for all official activities including training and matches in addition to increase in security across all venues.”
Australia, a staunch ally of the United States and its escalating action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has been on high alert for attacks by homegrown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East or their supporters.
In September, anti-terrorism police said they had thwarted an imminent threat to behead a random member of the public and, days later, a teenager in the city of Melbourne was shot dead after attacking two anti-terrorism officers with a knife.
Australian police sources said the gunman in the Sydney hostage siege was an Iranian refugee and self-styled sheikh, who was known to the authorities.
Australia is still on edge after the siege and security experts said it was difficult to prevent attacks by people acting alone.
“Australia has successfully hosted many prestigious events in the past but the recent developments cannot be taken lightly,” Soosay said.
“I would like to assure the teams, fans and the media that ALOC will do whatever necessary to provide the best security cover around the competition and everyone will enjoy the best-ever AFC Asian Cup.”
The Asian Cup is the biggest soccer tournament ever held in Australia, and features 16 teams from across the vast region, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Palestine, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea.
Australia has already hosted some of the world’s biggest sports events, including the 2000 Summer Olympics, the 2003 rugby World Cup and the 2006 Commonwealth Games but the next few months is looming as an especially busy time.
In addition to the Asian Cup, Australia will also host the cricket World Cup, the Australian Open tennis championship and the opening round of the Formula One world championship.
The cricket world cup will be contested by 16 teams, including Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The Indian team, currently in Australia playing a test series, has already been given extra protection.
“The safety of players, officials and fans is our highest priority,” a Cricket Australia spokesman told Reuters.
“We are in constant contact with the relevant authorities to ensure we have the most appropriate security measures in place at all matches.”