Malaysia to lift ban on Israeli duo in Chelsea squad for preseason tour

Home minister says if Avraham Grant and Tal Ben-Haim "do not bring with them their politics or ideology, there shouldn't be any problem."

grant 88 (photo credit: )
grant 88
(photo credit: )
Malaysia's government will allow Chelsea coach Avraham Grant and defender Tal Ben-Haim to enter the country for a preseason tour in July despite a policy of not issuing visas to Israelis. Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Sunday that immigration authorities will not bar the English Premier League club's representatives from visiting for a friendly against a select Malaysian team in Kuala Lumpur on July 29. Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and Israeli citizens require special permission to visit. "The ministry looks at the overall social and sporting aspects," the national news agency Bernama quoted Syed Hamid as saying. "If they do not bring with them their politics or ideology, there shouldn't be any problem." Chelsea had indicated last month it may have to abandon the Malaysian leg of its tour if the two men were not allowed into the country. Syed Hamid said the government does not consider the visit by Chelsea's Israelis' as a threat, stressing that the issue should not be politicized. Some Malaysian Muslim activists have warned they might stage demonstrations if the government allows the visit. "We have not recognized Israel [diplomatically] as it does not fulfill its international obligations," Syed Hamid was quoted as saying by Bernama. "But in sports, we can allow their athletes in. I'm a Chelsea supporter too." Malaysia allowed Israel to play in an international cricket tournament in 1997, but it led to demonstrations by Muslim groups. Chelsea will kick off its preseason tour with a match against Chinese Super League team Guangzhou Pharmaceutical on July 23. The tour will be the west London club's first in Asia since May 2005. Grant's blues tightened the title race on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in the Premier League and the manager was delighted with the result. With two games left in the league campaign Manchester hosts West Ham and then travels to Wigan while Chelsea visits Newcastle before playing Bolton at Stamford Bridge. "I am confident but we need to win these two remaining games and hope that United loses one point," Grant said. "It was a great victory and everyone played very strong." Meanwhile, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard returned to training Sunday for the first time since his mother's death, suggesting he may be back to face Liverpool in the Champions League. After Pat Lampard died from pneumonia on Thursday at age 58, her son has been allowed to stay away from training and missed Saturday's match. But he could now return for Wednesday's second leg of the Champions League semifinals against Liverpool, which is tied at 1-1. A member of the Chelsea staff speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that Lampard participated in Sunday's training session and was touched by the outpouring of grief from the club. Michael Ballack's opening goal on Saturday was celebrated by the squad holding a jersey emblazoned with Pat Lampard's name. Chelsea did not immediately return calls Sunday.