The organisers of the Asian Cup launched an investigation after football fans were locked out of the tie between Australia and Palestine in Dubai on Friday.
Organisers told The National on Saturday that some gates at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai were closed "in the interests of fan safety". They said that shortly before kick-off, a large number of fans, including some without tickets, had turned up at the venue "which resulted in the need to secure the area".
Supporters who had paid for tickets complained that they had been unable to get into the stadium for the match, with some estimating that several hundred were shut out. The Asian Cup organising committee issued an apology to supporters who were “inconvenienced or left disappointed”.
The game was a sell-out, organisers announced ahead of kick-off. However, several pockets of empty seats were visible on TV pictures, suggesting some fans did not make it inside.
Rashid Stadium holds around 12,000 fans, making it one of the smaller of the Asian Cup venues. It is hosting five matches, including a knock-out game in the round of 16.
Basilios, an Australia fan who lives in Abu Dhabi, and is from Melbourne, said he had waited in long queues before access was shut off shortly after half time. He said he had bought his tickets months ago.
“They just shut the doors,” he said. “It’s so frustrating – everyone lined up, we waited for an hour to get in.”
James, from Queensland, said he arrived at the stadium almost an hour before kick-off but was met with huge queues. He said: “It wasn’t initially apparent it was going to be a problem, until I realised how slow it was moving. It just didn’t move.”
Other fans expressed their frustration on social media, accompanied by photos of crowds stood outside the stadium.
In a statement, the Asian Cup local organising committee confirmed that “in the interests of fan safety, which is our top priority, the decision was taken to close a select number of gates to enter the stadium in the match between Palestine and Australia”.
It added: “Ahead of kick-off a large crowd of fans with and without tickets had gathered over a short period of time outside the stadium, which resulted in the need to secure the area.
“We sincerely apologise to any fans who were inconvenienced or left disappointed. The matter is being investigated further and a full review with stadium and venue management is taking place to ensure that this is an isolated incident.
“We would encourage all fans attending future matches to arrive at least one hour before kick-off to allow enough time to conduct security screening and access to the stadium. Providing a safe and enjoyable football experience for fans is our highest priority.”