Phoenix's China trip cancelled

THE DEVASTATING earthquake in China has forced the Chinese Government to cancel Wellington Phoenix FC’s scheduled pre-season tour of the country.

THE DEVASTATING earthquake in China has forced the Chinese Government to cancel Wellington Phoenix FC-s scheduled pre-season tour of the country.

The Phoenix were scheduled to play three matches in China from June 8-16, including an earthquake relief match in Beijing. However, with a humanitarian crisis looming in the worst affected Sichuan province in southern China, Chinese Government and Wellington Phoenix officials decided it was not appropriate for the club to embark on the tour.

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said it was a disappointing but understandable decision to cancel the visit.

“Unfortunately, given what-s happened in China, it-s been difficult to put the tour together and we-ve decided not to travel. The Chinese Government has suspended the division two and division three competitions and has decided only international fixtures will go ahead.”

The death toll from the catastrophic May 12 quake and repeated aftershocks has been put at 65,080. More than 23,000 people have been reported missing, while a total of 360,058 people were injured.

Pignata said a Phoenix/celebrity side would take part in a special charity match against a Chinese club side from Christchurch this weekend. The Sunday afternoon game, run in conjunction with the Wellington City Council, will kick off at 2pm at Newtown Park. Gold coin donations at the gate will be donated to the earthquake relief efforts.

“We-d love the fans to come to Newtown Park on Sunday to support the cause and in particular [the Phoenix-s Chinese player] Leilei Gao, who has put a lot of effort into organising this event to try and help relief efforts in his home country.”

The cancellation of the China tour had put a significant dent in the Phoenix-s pre-season buildup efforts but Pignata said the club was now examining other options closer to home.

A five-day visit to Christchurch is one option being explored, with matches also being investigated against Australian opposition.

“The status of the China visit only became apparent in the last couple of days, so we-re now working hard to arrange a couple of trips in the coming weeks,” Pignata said. “It is disappointing for the club that we can-t go to China but we really have to extend our sincerest sympathies to the Chinese people in the wake of this natural disaster.”

The club hoped to reschedule a tour for next year.

“It wasn-t even possible for us to postpone the tour to later in the year because of the buildup to the Beijing Olympics in August, but we-re hopeful of being able to organise something leading into next season.”

The Phoenix-s early season preparations continue at Porirua Park at 7.30pm on Wednesday when they take on the Olympic Games-bound New Zealand under-23 side in a training match.