The Asian Football Confederation has played down reports that fans of Hong Kong football club Eastern were banned by authorities in China from attending an away game at Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League.
The South China Morning Post reported that Eastern fans who bought tickets from the club were told that “internal problems” meant that they were unable to attend the match.
In an unusually charitable move, Eastern said that each fan who bought a ticket, costing about HK$170 (£18/€21/$22), would receive compensation of HK$3,000.
With speculation rife that authorities in China had clamped down on fans attending, fearing that the match could be used to promote a political statement, mainstream media reports in China suggested that “security issues” may have been behind such restrictions.
A small number of fans wearing the blue of Eastern were visible in the away section among the crowd of 38,000, but some reports in the Hong Kong media suggested that they were employees of Eastern’s mainland sponsor.
The AFC insisted there was nothing untoward.
“The match commissioner has confirmed that there has been no breach of competition rules by either the host team or the host member association, as Guangzhou Evergrande have offered Eastern SC (Hong Kong) a ticket allocation for the AFC Champions League match and have indeed made further tickets available,” the AFC said.
An Eastern spokesman had earlier denied that the club had been put under pressure to return the tickets by either Guangzhou Evergrande or the government.
Eastern lost the match 7-0.