Saturday 18 January 2020

Fifa president invites boys trapped in Thai cave to attend World Cup Final if they are rescued in time

Boys from the under-16 soccer team trapped inside Tham Luang cave greet members of the Thai rescue team in Chiang Rai, Thailand
Boys from the under-16 soccer team trapped inside Tham Luang cave greet members of the Thai rescue team in Chiang Rai, Thailand Newsdesk Newsdesk

Fifa has sent a letter to the president of the Football Association of Thailand offering its "deepest sympathies and support" to the families of 12 young players and their coach trapped in a cave in the country's north.

The letter signed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino also said the organisation would like to invite the youngsters and their coach to the World Cup final in Russia, should they be rescued in time and are healthy enough to travel.

The team's appearance at the final would "undoubtedly be a wonderful moment of communion and celebration", the letter said.

The boys have asked the navy Seals taking care of them in the cave for details about what has happened in the World Cup since they got trapped on June 23.

The Thai authorities overseeing the rescue have previously refused to rule out the option of having the boys simply wait in the cave until the floodwaters clear naturally, a process that could take months until the end of the monsoon season.

But on Friday, concerns were growing that worsening weather and lowered oxygen levels in the underground complex may force them to extract the boys in a difficult and dangerous diving operation.

The challenges of the situation were highlighted overnight by the death of a volunteer diver helping the rescue effort, former Thai navy SEAL Samarn Poonan. He fell unconscious underwater on his way back from dropping off oxygen supplies halfway along the route to the boys.

"We can no longer wait for all conditions (to be ready) because circumstances are pressuring us," Thai SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference. "We originally thought the boys can stay safe inside the cave for quite some time but circumstances have changed. We have limited amount of time."

Other members of the international footballing community have also sent messages of support to the boys. The Japanese national team, shortly after they were knocked out of the World Cup by Belgium, urged the boys in Japanese: “Don’t give up! Hang on!” and in English “Hang on! Football Family are with you.”

After a rescuer filmed one of the boys wearing a red England football shirt. England defender John Stones said “we’re hoping and wishing that they get out safe and sound.”

“Everyone, their friends and families, all of the boys (here), all the England squad, all our thoughts are with them,” Stones said.

And England’s rivals in Saturday’s quarter-final, Sweden, also had a message for the boys. Sebastian Larsson, a veteran of the Swedish team, told reporters: “All you can do in any situation like that is just pray for them.”

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