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Syria to rename dilapidated stadium in Damascus in honour of Pele

Syrian forces used the Abbasiyyin Stadium as a car park for military vehicles and a training ground for fighters
A mourner passes by a piece of cloth with an image of Brazilian football legend Pele outside the Urbano Caldeira stadium in Santos, Sao Paulo State, Brazil, on 2 January 2023 (AFP)
A mourner passes by a piece of cloth with an image of Brazilian football legend Pele outside the Urbano Caldeira stadium in Santos, Sao Paulo State, Brazil, on 2 January 2023 (AFP)

The Syrian Arab Football Association (SFA) is planning to name a dilapidated stadium in Damascus, once used by the military, after the Brazilian football legend Pele.

The Abbasiyyin Stadium was once the home venue of the Syrian national team and an iconic site in Damascus.

It was built in 1976 to host 30,000 fans. However, since 2011, when the war in Syria began, the Abbasiyyin has become neglected, following Fifa's decision not to host international football matches in the country.

It became a dumping ground and a grazing field for animals, while some seats crumbled under the weather, concrete and synthetic track cracked, and glass burst.

syria stadium pele
A dumped vehicle inside Abbasiyyin Stadium in the Syrian capital Damascus (Screengrab) 

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Syrian forces used the Abbasiyyin as a car park for military vehicles, storage for ammunition and weapons, and a training ground for government fighters.

The SFA is now planning to rename Abbasiyyin after Pele, to honour the Brazilian legend, who was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

Salah al-Din Ramadan, the SFA chairman, told local radio Al-Madina FM on Tuesday that they are planning to submit a proposal to Fifa to change the name of the stadium.

Stadiums 'out of service'

Early in January, Fifa president Gianni Infantino said that the federation sent requests to every country in the world to name a stadium in honour of Pele, who scored more than 1,000 goals and died at the age of 82 on 29 December.

Ramadan said the SFA received an official letter from Fifa, but the hurdle remains that "90 percent of the stadiums in Syria are out of service.

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"Our proposal is the Abbasiyyin. We did not officially submit it, as it needs to be ratified first," he said.

The SFA has had to postpone the premier league in the country several times in recent years, as major stadiums such as Hama, Homs, Latakia and Al-Fayhaa remain in a dire condition and are not safe to be used, Ramadan explained.

In October, the league was postponed until early 2023 after a fuel shortage hit the country.

Social media users mocked Ramadan's suggestion to rename the Abbasiyyin; one proposed it should be called "thugs stadium" and another suggested "Khamenei stadium" after the supreme leader of Iran, who supported the Syrian government during the war.

One tweeted a plea to leave the Brazilian striker in peace. "Why don't you leave the legend in peace... Is it necessary for [Pele] to suffer even in his death?"

The Syrian national team has had to play matches outside Syria for the past decade. However, since 2020 the SFA has been pushing Fifa officials to lift the ban on Syria playing and hosting international matches, arguing that the country is safe.

In 2020, Fifa officials visited Damascus for the first time since 2012 to "assess the situation" and monitor the transparency of the SFA's election.

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