By Paul Nicholson
November 6 – The ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) is bringing back a regional club competition after a gap of 15 years with the hope, following meetings with FIFA president Gianni Infantino last week, that it could be a pathway to the expanded Club World Cup in 2021.
The ASEAN Club championship (ACC) will feature the League or Cup champions from 11 of the regional association’s 12 members – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Australia, a member of the AFF, will not enter a team in the inaugural edition planned for 2020.
“The ACC will be the next major competition in the region after the enormously successful AFF Suzuki Cup,” the AFF said in a press release.
Prize money for 12-team competition is set at $ 500,000 for the winners. Commercial sales are understood to be under the control of the Seamus O’Brien who was formerly the principal of Word Sports Group which held the commercial rights to all Asian Football Confederation competitions, including the AFC Champions League. O’Brien sold WSG to Lagardere who subsequently lost the AFC representation.
The ACC competition structure will reportedly feature two groups of six teams playing each other home and away, with the top two in each group advancing to semi-finals, followed by a final.
“The prospects of playing in the expanded FIFA Club World Cup is enticing and will translate to among other things greater investment by league and clubs in the region thus contributing to the further growth of the football ecosystem in Southeast Asia,” said AFF president Khiev Sameth.
“We took time to put this integrated and holistic plan together as there were numerous factors to consider, including ensuring no conflict in scheduling with the domestic leagues, FIFA and AFC fixtures including that of the expanded AFC Champions League.”
Sameth and the AFF met Infantino twice to discuss the ASEAN Club Championship — once in Thailand last week and earlier in Vietnam last month. What is not clear is how the ACC’s ambition for qualification to the Club World Cup will fit with the wider AFC qualification criteria, or what Infantino may have promised the AFF.
The current route to the Club World Cup for AFC clubs is via the AFC Champions League. AFF clubs have failed to register a competitive challenge in that competition.
The AFF approved the new competition at a special council meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, last week, including the master rights agreement.
“We also had to look into other crucial matters like branding, prize money and format of competition. Then, there were the negotiations with the various commercial partners over the past months before securing the approval of the AFF Council,” Sameth said.
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