Asian Games: Hijab, match-fixing, doping controversies hit Asiad

Qatar's women's basketball team stood defiant over a ban on their Muslim headscarves Thursday as a second doping case and match-fixing fears overshadowed the 17th Asian Games

Incheon: Qatar's women's basketball team slammed a ban on their Muslim headscarves as an "insult" Thursday as a doping case and football match-fixing claims also rocked the Asian Games. The furious Qataris pulled out of a second game and looked set to quit the baketball tournament altogether over a rule forbidding headwear in international games. "This is an insult to us, they did not respect our religion," Qatar forward Refaa Morjan Mohammed told AFP.

-Doping cases-
In further controversies, the Olympic-style tournament in Incheon, South Korea, was hit by its second doping case after a Cambodian soft tennis player tested positive. And a betting analysis company voiced strong suspicions that certain group games in the men's football had been rigged, citing unusual wagering patterns.

The incidents overshadowed a busy day six highlighted by South Korean swimmer Park Tae-Hwan's third failure to win a title, and another gold rush for China. Qatar's women refused to attend the stadium for Thursday's game with Nepal, a day after they walked on court to face Mongolia but quickly departed when told they could not play.

Basketball body FIBA's ban on headwear in international competition is motivated by safety but it has raised hackles at Asia's Olympics, which includes several Muslim nations. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), which runs the quadrennial Asian Games, criticised FIBA. Other sports such as football allow religious headwear. "Every athlete has the right to represent their country's flag without discrimination," OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam said.

- 'Manipulated matches' -
Cambodian soft tennis player Yi Sophany, 18, became the second athlete caught in the doping net when she tested positive for the banned stimulant sibutramine. She follows 20-year-old Tajik footballer Khurshed Beknazarov, who was kicked out for doping on Tuesday and has been provisionally banned by Asian football authorities. And authorities launched an investigation after betting analysis company Sportradar said it "strongly" suspects match-fixing in the men's football.

"We can say that we strongly believe there have been manipulated matches at the Asian Games," Andreas Krannich, managing director of strategy and integrity, told The New Paper in Singapore. Krannich did not reveal the teams involved but said attention was focusing on at least one group game where late goals were scored. "The odds, movements and the deviations caused alerts, belying clear betting evidence that could never be justified in a regular contest," he said.

The OCA said it would work with the Asian Football Confederation and world body FIFA to investigate the claim. "OCA takes this matter seriously and works with the Asian federation and international federation (FIFA) for a proper and full investigation," an official told AFP.

-Nepalese disappears from athletes' village-
Police also launched a search for a Nepalese sepak takraw player who disappeared from the athletes' village, suspecting he may seek to become an illegal immigrant. The Games organising committee said the male sepak takraw competitor did not appear on Wednesday when his team gathered to fly home from Incheon. At the request of the Nepalese team, South Korean police investigated and found the man had left the athletes village in the night without telling anyone.

Organisers did not name the athlete but expressed regret at the incident. Police suspect he might seek to become an illegal migrant. "Closed-circuit television in the village showed the man wearing a black suit, carrying a bag and leaving in the dark," Incheon police senior inspector Kwon Wang-Hoon told AFP. "We believe he might have disappeared to find a job here," Kwon said, adding the case has been referred to immigration authorities. "If he turns up before the expiration of his visa on October 19, he can go home without trouble.

Otherwise he faces charges as an illegal immigrant," Kwon said. Every year South Korea issues visas for tens of thousands of foreign workers from Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asian countries to help ease a manpower shortage at small firms. More than 200,000 foreign workers are also employed illegally in manufacturing, construction and other industries.

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